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Protest signs with Windows Start button on them in front of government building

Microsoft 'starts' over with Windows 8.1

When we reviewed Windows 8 at launch last October, we found that a lot of the features, especially in the areas of security, were really good for government. However, the interface remained troublesome. While we applaud Microsoft's vision of a universal interface, some choices were head-scratching at best, didn't seem to serve any real purpose and mostly just confused users.

The biggest one was the removal of the Start button, which has been the way users launched programs for well over a decade. Now Microsoft, faced with slumping PC sales, a weaker share of the tablet market than they predicted and outright resistance to upgrading to Windows 8 (even among professional and government groups), is backpedaling.

At the Microsoft Build Developer Conference, CEO Steve Ballmer announced that Windows 8.1, due to be released in the coming months, is going to try to be more user friendly. The core of this effort will be the return of the Start menu as the main way to launch programs. CNN reported on many other changes in store for the OS,  including support for 3D printing, an updated music app with Pandora-like features, booting directly to the desktop, better control of the home screen tiles and support for high-resolution monitors.

It’s not the old Start button, however. TechCrunch reports that clicking on Start brings up Windows 8’s Start menu, which at the moment is not customizable. But, hey, it’s a start.

This is all part of Microsoft's commitment to releasing patches and service packs for its products in months instead of years. That's a great idea, but I can't help but think that a lot of the interface problems could have been solved at launch if Microsoft would have simply asked people what they liked about Windows and kept those features in place. The company seems to like to push out features (or remove them) because it thinks it knows what is right, even if that goes against what everyone else wants. It’s why the Zune player died on arrival and why the company nearly killed off the Xbox One before it even launched.

I for one am happy to see the Start menu's return, though for me, it never went away.  I was one of the 37.7 percent of global users who refused to give up on XP. When forced to do so because of a computer meltdown, I joined the 44.8 percent using Windows 7, and gave the 4.2 percent using Windows 8 a wide berth.

If you happen to be one of the 4.2 percent, and you really want your Start menu back, then check out the preview build of Windows 8.1. And agencies that have been holding off on Windows 8 might be glad they waited.

We'll take a look at it in the coming weeks and report on its progress, but if you're a brave soul with a computer to spare, by all means give it a try now and let us know what you think. Good luck!

Posted by John Breeden II on Jun 28, 2013 at 9:47 AM


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