Windows 8.1 Restores Start Button, With Twist - InformationWeek

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Windows 8.1 Restores Start Button, With Twist

Microsoft confirms Windows 8.1 will include boot-to-desktop options and a restored Start button. But other interface criticisms remain unanswered.

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Microsoft announced Thursday that Windows 8.1 will restore the Start button and include a boot-to-desktop option, confirming a series of reports published the previous afternoon.

At face value, the tweaks smooth over several of Windows 8's most-criticized rough edges. What remains to be seen, however, is if the new features' implementations will mollify detractors, or merely shift criticism for the OS, which has struggled to gain users, in a different direction.

Corporate VP for Windows Program Management Antoine Leblond confirmed the new features in a blog post. Specifically, he said "Boot to Desktop is Coming" and "the Start Button is Back -- Sort of."

[ What else does Microsoft need to do? Read 5 Windows 8 Gripes Microsoft Must Address. ]

Rather than replicating the Windows 7 button, the new version will connect to the Start screen -- that is, to the same Live Tile interface to which Windows 8 currently boots. Users can set the button to summon an "All Apps" view, however, in which app icons can be arranged by usage, installation date, name or category.

The Start button will most likely benefit traditional mouse-and-keyboard users, but users with touchscreens will be able to access "All Apps" by swiping from the bottom of the display. The Start button will be visible at the bottom of the taskbar when the user is in desktop mode but will only appear in the Modern UI if the user moves the mouse to the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Microsoft also said that newly installed apps will only appear on the Start Screen if the user pins them there.

And yes, Win 8.1 will allow users to boot directly to either the desktop or the "All Apps" screen in Windows 8.1.

Windows 8.1 will feature greater multitasking flexibility within the Modern UI. Users will be able to run up to three apps per screen, and multi-monitor viewing will be supported. Each open app can be freely resized, and users can run multiple windows of the same app, such as two instances of Internet Explorer.

Windows 8 currently forces users to jump from the Modern UI to the desktop when they need to access the Control Panel. Windows 8.1 will make more tools equally accessible in either interface. Leblond specifically mentioned controls for display resolution, power options, system information, product keys, Windows Update and SkyDrive.

Live Tiles will come in more sizes, bringing some welcome customization to the Start screen. Users can also use the same background for both the Start screen and the desktop, an option that could make moving between the UIs more cohesive.

Leblond stated people inadvertently move tiles on the Start screen. For that reason, Windows 8.1 will require that users press and hold -- or, for desktop users, right click -- an icon before moving it around.

In Windows 8.1, the search function will return files, apps, Bing Web results and SkyDrive files. Windows 8.1 also will feature stronger and more numerous hooks to SkyDrive.

Windows 8.1's native apps are getting upgraded. The blog post said, for example, that the Photos app will include editing features, and that the Music app has been redesigned.

Leblond offered little information about IE11, expect that users will be able to open as many tabs as they want, and that open tabs can be synced across all Win8.1 devices.

Microsoft's announcement falls in line with rumors posted by several websites, including ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurott's Supersite for Windows.

Indeed, most of the features that Leblond confirmed have been part of the rumor mill for months. Nevertheless, most Win8 critics are likely to welcome this news, which suggests Microsoft is both listening to and acting on customer feedback. That said, these adjustments do not constitute a panacea for Windows 8's woes.

At least one report suggests, for example, that Windows 8 users -- even those on tablets -- have relatively little use for Modern-style apps. By allowing users to boot directly to the desktop, Microsoft will remove the mechanism that currently forces users to look at those apps each time Win8 boots up. With that strong-arming no longer in play, what must Redmond do to keep Modern apps from languishing? Will Windows 8.1's refreshed native apps be a step in the right direction?

And what about traditional desktop users? Leblond promises that this group has not been forgotten, and to mouse-reliant users, Windows 8.1 should be easier to navigate than the current version. But is it enough to tempt Windows 7 users to upgrade their desktops?

Only time will tell. For the present, Leblond promised that more information will be revealed between now and late June, when Microsoft is slated to release a preview version of Windows 8.1 at its Build conference in San Francisco. The official version is expected to begin shipping in the following months.

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User Rank: Ninja
5/30/2013 | 5:27:32 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Restores Start Button, With Twist
Making a "fake" START button redirect users back to the Metro screen is just playing a cruel joke on long time Windows Users. Look MS, give us desktop users a REAL START BUTTON and maybe a desktop icon for getting to the Metro tile apps screen, if we ever feel the need to waste time playing with a bunch of nearly useless apps. If I'm on a real desktop why would I want an app between me and the real web site I'm wanting use such as Facebook? These "Vista Gadgets on steroids" need a way for the user to permanently eliminate them in a desktop setting, or at least be assured they are not running in the background stealing CPU cycles.
User Rank: Strategist
5/30/2013 | 4:48:27 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Restores Start Button, With Twist
No reason to upgrade Windows 7 to a slightly better Windows 8 Desktop but no reason to downgrade a new Windows 8 System to Windows 7.

A couple of changes to the configuration and you can comfortably stay on Desktop until you want to go to the Modern Front End and play with it..

I run both a Windows 7 and Windows 8 System side by side every day.

No reason not to upgrade a Vista or XP system . I upgraded a retired XP at the $40 special price and it brought it back from the dead.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/30/2013 | 3:50:28 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Restores Start Button, With Twist
No restored Start Menu = Microsoft is lying though their teeth about
listening to their customers. If the restored Start Button just takes a
user back to Metro, Microsoft has pretty much just spit in the faces of
their users and has indicated that it no longer has any real interest
in remaining in business, because the outrage that will be engendered by
such a move will make the anger triggered by the original Start Menu
removal look trivial.

Potential customers are waiting to see if 8.1 shows Microsoft is
listening or not. If not, then the current stall out in PC sales will be
nothing compared to what's going to occur after a
poke-you-in-the-eye-with-a-stick 8.1 is released.

Given what's coming down the pike with 8.1 and Xbox One, Steve Ballmer seems absolutely determined to kill Microsoft.
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