Microsoft dropped the biggest hint at the return of a Start button to Windows 8 today. Speaking at the Wired Business Conference in New York, Windows chief Julie Larson-Green reiterated that Microsoft is looking to change certain elements of its upcoming Windows 8 update, codenamed "Blue," in response to user feedback. "Some of it is about not just about time on task or how quickly they learn it … some of it is just in the comfort level that people have."
That comfort level has left some confused, and others calling for the return of the Start button to Windows 8. Third-party apps that specialize in providing a button UI have soared in popularity since Windows 8's release. In early January, Pokki revealed that its Start button replacement app had been downloaded 1.5 million times since the Windows 8 release in October. Although there is a tiny Start button-like UI element in the lower left of Windows 8, Larson-Green admitted it wasn't ideal for everyone. "It's hidden, so some people like the comfort of having it show up on the screen all the time, so they just know their home place and where to go."
"The button might be helpful to have on the screen for some people."
Having it show up on the screen as a traditional button is something that Microsoft has "been thinking about" according to Larson-Green. "There has been discussion, there has been meaningful discussion," she confirmed in response to a question over its rumored return. Despite fully backing the Start Screen as a better way to launch apps in Windows 8, Larson-Green admitted that "the button might be helpful to have on the screen for some people," noting that there's added user comfort of having it on display. "We're principled in the direction we're heading, but we're not going to be stubborn," Larson-Green says. "We'll continue to refine, it's a big big change."
Larson-Green also confirmed that Microsoft will ship a public preview release of its Windows 8.1 "Blue" update in June. The eventual release of Windows 8.1 is expected to include a Start button and a new boot-to-desktop option for users to avoid the Start Screen. Microsoft is promising more information on Windows 8.1 in the coming weeks, while a final version will be delivered via the Windows Store in time for the holiday season later this year.