Start menu isn't back in Win 8.1, but some key features are

Microsoft customers clamoring for the incorporation of the Start button and menu into Windows 8 will get their wish partially fulfilled in the upcoming update of the OS

Microsoft customers clamoring for the incorporation of the Start button and menu into Windows 8 will get their wish partially fulfilled in the upcoming update of the OS.

Windows 8.1, which will be released in preview mode next month and in final form later this year, will not have a Start menu, but it will have something very close to a Start button that'll trigger several key Start menu-like features.

A main target of complaints about Windows 8 have been its two user interfaces: the radically redesigned "Modern" one based on tile icons and optimised for touch screen devices like tablets; and a traditional one similar to Windows 7's for running legacy applications that nonetheless lacks the Start button and menu.

Critics have said that the Modern UI requires a steep learning curve for the average user, and that even the more familiar traditional desktop interface can be frustrating to navigate. In addition, toggling between the two interfaces is seen as awkward. The interface issues have been a concern particularly among some business customers worried about affecting their employees' productivity.

But Windows 8.1 adds a Start-like button, as well as the possibility to view all the applications installed on the device and sort them by name, date installed, most used or category, Microsoft announced on Thursday.

The OS update also will allow users to boot directly to the traditional desktop interface, whereas before the Modern interface was the default and primary one. It will also be possible for users to have the same background image or pattern both on the Start screen of the Modern UI and on the traditional desktop interface in order to smooth the interplay of the two interfaces.

Clearly, Microsoft is trying to address the interface complaints in Windows 8.1, according to Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst.

"It's not bad to experiment. It's not bad to make mistakes. But it's very bad to not listen to your customers," he said via email.

The experience doesn't replicate the Windows 7 Start button and menu, but it's an improvement over Windows 8, Silver said.

"The Start button will not bring you a vertical list of applications and commands" like the one in Windows 7, he said. "But if you're on the desktop, it won't bounce you out of that environment. It will bring the Start screen on top of the desktop. It's really kind of nuanced. All the elements of Start won't be back, but it won't feel as jarring."

Grafting the Windows 7 Start button and menu onto Windows 8.1 wouldn't have been a good option, he said.

"Microsoft needs to get people used to the new interface. They tried forcing it on people and that didn't work. To bring back the old experience would probably have left the new UX [user experience] and apps too hidden," Silver said.

Enterprise IT leaders should stay tuned for more details about features that will be especially relevant to them, wrote Antoine Leblond, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Windows Program Management, in Thursday's blog post announcement.

"Windows 8.1 will also include big bets for business in areas such as management and security -- we'll have more to say on these next week at TechEd North America," he wrote, referring to the Microsoft conference for IT professionals and enterprise developers that will be held June 3 to June 6 in New Orleans.

Other changes in Windows 8.1 include an improved search capability powered by the company's Bing engine that will return results from a variety of sources, including the Web, applications, local files and the SkyDrive cloud storage service.

Windows 8.1 also brings more options for seeing multiple applications on the screen simultaneously, including the ability to resize apps, for improved multitasking. The OS update also lets users save files directly to SkyDrive. A new version of Microsoft's browser, IE 11, will ship with Windows 8.1, featuring faster page loading and better performance in touch screen mode.

Overall, Windows 8.1 "is closer to what they should have put out as Windows 8.0 and probably closer to what they would have put out if they had had more time," Silver said.

Other improvements include the ability to make a Skype call and take photos with the Windows 8.1 device while the screen is in Lock mode without having to log in. Microsoft has also added tile icon sizes to give users more options for organizing and arranging them in the Start screen. People can also now select multiple applications at once and do bulk actions on them, like resizing, uninstalling and rearranging them. The native Windows 8 applications, like Photos and Music, will also be enhanced.

"The improvements Microsoft announced sound compelling to me. I can see value in most of them," IDC analyst Al Gillen said. "Microsoft is doing in 8.1 a lot of the things it should have done before launching the product initially. These are steps in the right direction."

It's also encouraging to see Microsoft being able to cook up an update to Windows 8 within the first year of its release, as this may signal a more frequent update cycle for the OS, which is key to keeping it competitive in the tablet market, Gillen said.

The Windows 8.1 preview will be released at Microsoft's Build developer conference, which runs from June 26-28. When it ships in final form later this year, Windows 8.1 will be a free update for users of Windows 8 and of Windows RT, the OS version for devices that use ARM chips.

Comments

Anonymous

1

I am scared to death of the thing. Upgraded (or is that downgraded) my home PC from Win 7 to 8 - and now I can't use it.

I have given it a good, honest go but I am damned if I can find anything. Now I don't use my home pc. There it sits.

When I bought a new laptop recently I was fortunate enough to find one with Win7.

It's truly horrible.

Anonymous

2

Don't expect corporates to start moving to 8.1 then anytime soon.

I use Windows 8 on a touch and none touch enabled devices and they both have W8Start installed and all the stupid metro interface has is one button "Desktop" just in case I select the "new" start screen by accident.

Corporates use desktops almost all of which are not touch enabled and won't be for a very long time (LCD screens last much longer than CRT).

The point of "Windows" was to be a windows manager and allow me to run more than one application windows at the same time. If I only wanted to run one full screen app at once I would use DOS!

Chris 01

3

I reckon Microsoft's had a bad rap on Win8. I'm 63 so not a young gun. I'm not a computer guru. I've been through MSDos, original windows, win 95, and most recently XT. I jumped frrom XT to Win8. I have a reasonable working knowledge around computers, as long as I have a manual and a set of instructions I can figure most things out. I found Win8 so easy to use and filled with lots of really good features that I'm really battling to figure out what all the fuss is about. There must be a lot of dumb people out there It is great, easy to use. To those out there contemplating a change to Win8... do it... it's well worth it... Win8 is easy.

daMystery1

4

Regardless of how MS tried, or continues, to justify the release of Win 8 with a so called Metro interface.... ** If they were so determined to release it as such, it could have had TWO alternative desktop screens that were able to be changed/cycled via THE START BUTTON/MENU. It seems like 8.1 will not solve their problem either - unless they cease to be BL...y minded and/or remain in denial of what need to be done for ultimate acceptance ie. **alternate screens as suggeted above** Golden Rule.... 'If it aint broke don't fix it'. I had an offer of a promo copy of Win 8 so sent for it on Disc but have NOT installed it. I continue to use Win7 because it is stable and runs perfectly - As I said: 'If it aint broke dont fix it'.

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