It's official. Microsoft is bringing back the Start button. While company executives have hinted at its return, and details leaked recently, Microsoft is now ready to talk Windows 8.1. The software giant will add the infamous button and a number of options to Windows 8.1 to appease desktop users in the upcoming update.
"One of the things we realised right after we shipped Windows 8, was that the start tip was the only place in our entire ecosystem in which we had something that takes you back to the Start Screen that didn't look like a Windows logo," explains Jensen Harris, director of the Windows User Experience Team at Microsoft. On the Charms bar there's a Windows logo, tablets have a Windows logo, and keyboards and mice even have the Windows logo, but Microsoft ended up adding an odd looking start tip in the lower left-hand corner of Windows 8 instead.
Microsoft needed the Windows logo back
"We knew we needed to change that [start tip] to the Windows logo," says Harris. "Once we had that there and we figured out that was the change we needed to make it was pretty straight forward to keep that same button in the same place in the task bar…it lends back a little bit of familiarity. It makes the whole PC work the same way."
So Microsoft is simply bringing back a Start button that will be enabled by default in Windows 8.1 and works across the desktop mode and Start Screen. Although it won't always be visible in Windows 8-style applications, if you hover over the lower left-hand corner it will appear just like the traditional button used in Windows for years. It's not an optional element either, Windows 8.1 users will not be able to disable the new Start button.
Another new option is the ability to boot straight into the traditional desktop mode, particularly useful for businesses who are considering moving to Windows 8 but want to avoid the Start Screen initially. Businesses can also configure Windows 8.1 to boot straight into an application or a company portal, but desktop is one of the many options.
Desktop wallpapers on the Start Screen to ease the jarring switch
There are also new navigation settings in the taskbar properties to provide greater control over how the UI works in Windows 8.1. "Show my desktop behind the Start Screen" will bring the Tiles in directly over the desktop background, making it less jarring to switch between them. You can also configure the Start button to go straight to a new All Apps section, which can be sorted by different views to make it more like a traditional Start menu with one click access.
Overall, these are changes that Microsoft has been forced to make in reaction to feedback around Windows 8. The company believes its Windows 8-style apps are the future, but customers clearly aren't ready to live in the future just yet. "It's a lot more flexibility for people who really want, the power users, to configure how things work," explains Harris. It keeps everyone happy, while ensuring that the touch experience isn't altered. A compromise that's essential for the perception of Windows 8 and its usability on desktop and laptop computers.