Start button’s returning to Windows — but not really

The rumors are true: The Start button is coming back. But only after a fashion.

In a blog post on the site, a Microsoft vice president confirmed reports that the iconic Windows Start button will return to the operating system in a coming update. In Windows 8.1, the Start button will always be visible when users are in the desktop interface. They’ll also be able to see it when they point their cursor to the bottom left corner while using newer Windows apps.

“PCs today are evolving for a world of mobile computing where people interact with their devices through touch, and we designed Windows 8 for this,” said Antoine Leblond, a corporate vice president overseeing Windows program management at Microsoft, said in the post. “But we also recognize there are many non-touch devices in use today — especially in the commercial setting. As such we’ve focused on a number of improvements to ensure easier navigation for people using a mouse and keyboard.”

New Windows 8.1 split screen

A view of the upcoming Windows update, dubbed Windows 8.1. Note the Start button and how the screen is more evenly split between apps.

The change, though, is only skin deep. While the button will say “start” and will have the familiar Windows logo, it won’t work the same as the start button did in earlier versions of Windows. Instead, it’s basically just a retro veneer for an existing button in Windows 8 and will do the exact same thing as the button it replaces: take users back to the Windows 8 start screen. Folks who would like to see a return of the full Windows Start menu are apparently out of luck.

But those unhappy or uninspired by Windows 8 may find other coming changes more to their liking. According to Leblond, the update, dubbed Windows 8.1 and slated to be previewed at the company’s Build developer conference next month, will also give users more options for running multiple programs or Windows in the new interface, formerly called Metro. Users will be able to choose how much space they give each app when they split their screen between two of them, instead of having that split be fixed. Users will also be able to split the screen between two windows of the same app, such as two browser Windows, something you can’t do in Windows 8.

It’s unclear, though, whether Microsoft has addressed the two biggest shortcomings of Windows 8: the inability to boot directly to the desktop and the operating system’s lack of awareness of how you are interacting with it.

As I’ve written before, Windows 8 feels like a two-headed monster. Its new interface is great for touch-based tablets, while its traditional desktop interface is ideal for use with a keyboard and mouse. But Windows 8 doesn’t tailor its interface for the type of input you are using. Touch-based users will often see the Windows desktop, which is extraordinarily difficult to navigate with fingertips. And traditional keyboard users can’t avoid the new Metro interface even though it’s much more difficult to navigate with a mouse.

Photos courtesy of Microsoft.


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  • Erik

    Not sure why they would bother with just a start button, everybody I support wants the start menu. None of them have touch or use for metro even though I have gotten many of them adapted to it.

    If you’re on the desktop give them a start menu, Microsoft doesn’t listen to what is a majority of users telling them to fix this.

    Yes, the world is going mobile, but for this and probably a few versions down the road the world has 99% NON TOUCH screen computers.

    Microsoft has screwed up and clearly doesn’t care what the vast majority thinks. I guess they really are following in Apple’s footsteps.

  • steve

    How do you change the picture on the “start screen” as shown above. I can only choose from a few dumb templates and colors. I can’t upload my own, like I can with the lock screen.

    • That’s one of the other new features in Windows 8.1: You’ll be able to choose from a wider variety of start screen backgrounds.

  • Sam Googlian

    It seems to me that the Windows division at Microsoft is now dominated by young graduates who are the sort of tablet and smart phone generation.

    They don’t seem to know how computers are being used in the corporate world, especially in the engineering and the scientific worlds.

    We don’t use tablets in engineering, and we don’t care for tiles or touch screens!
    Tablets don’t do us much when we run Matlab, for example. We use a mouse and a keyboard, and we run multiple, powerful applications simultaneously.

    Even photographers cannot do much with a tablet when it comes to running their “big-boy” editing software.

    the “Start” > “All Programs” is very basic, and essential to us.
    We don’t use a tablet to type C programs text all day, or click on an icon to watch a video, or to play a music file half of our day.

    To this day, Windows XP has had the best user interface of any version of Windows.
    Windows 7, although more powerful, is not my favorite interface, but I can live with it.
    I had to spend numerous hours changing folders ownership (since Windows 7 restricted me from doing much of any real administrative things).

    Windows 8 is a No, No, and will not reside on any of our machines, period.

    It might be great for someone who doesn’t use any heavy duty software, or who likes the colors of the Windows 8 tiles!

    Putting a lousy “Start” icon on the desktop might fool my great grandmother, but it is shame on Microsoft to assume the ignorance and the stupidity of its customers.

    When a corporation reaches the top, and then becomes blinded by arrogance, it will start coming downhill; if in doubt, history would prove it. Examples are too many!

  • Dermbuilder

    There is always the choice of building a tower (desktop) computer from parts or having a hardware expert/system builder build one for you, and then putting the OS of your choice on it, you can still buy Win7, and when that becomes unavailable, really show M$ what you think and switch to Linux. Like Sam above says, M$ has become arrogant and perhaps also senile in its old age, and perhaps it is time for the computer industry to move on.

    • Sam Googlian

      The hardware (in terms of building it, having it built, or buying a system at the store) is irrelevant.

      My thoughts (for quite some years now) is that it’s time for some innovative minds to think outside the box, and no more relying on OS to be installed the way we have known it for the past decade or two.

      Perhaps something that resides in nonvolatile, re-programmable memory, and allows for the machine to be ready in an instant (maybe 5 seconds or so).

      Maybe the Open Source folks can beat commercial companies to it, and pull the rug from under M$’s feet, and completely change the way the PC starts up (and shuts down).

      I’m just presenting food for thought (to keep it short here), but there is a lot that I (and others) can add or elaborate.

      Scratching my head and daydreaming!