Start Button Resurrection in Windows 8 a Double-Edged Sword

If Microsoft brings back the Start button in Windows 8 and allows direct boot into the Desktop, it will appease disgruntled users but stunt its own mobile progress.

Windows 8 has always felt like an experiment to me. The tile-based user interface (formally known as Metro) certainly has a unique look and feel but was probably too much change for users with a long-running preference for the traditional Windows.

Microsoft needed to keep a presence on laptops and desktops but it also (absolutely) needed to get on touch-screen tablets. With Windows 8 it created one OS for these two contrasting form factors – and the people aren't buying it. Literally.

Worldwide PC shipments in the first quarter of 2013 were down 13.9 percent compared to the same quarter last year, research firm IDC reported last week. That's the largest year-over-year decline in PC history. Windows 8 isn't the sole reason for this drop, but it's a big one.

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In the long build-up to Windows 8 throughout 2012, there was talk of Windows 8 saving the PC industry or at least stabilizing it, but it turns out Windows 8 is now holding back the PC. Again, Windows 8 is not the only reason for poor PC sales; ultrabooks and convertibles are seen as too pricey compared to the iPad and especially even cheaper tablets like the iPad Mini, Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire.

All of this puts Microsoft in the crossfire. Consumers and businesses are happy to stick with aging Windows 7 machines because Windows 8 still comes across as a risk despite improvements to speed and security features. On the other hand, if people are just moving to tablets and smartphones because of an organic shift to mobile, and not a distaste for Windows 8, than Microsoft is in even deeper trouble too because it's a non-starter in mobile.

Something has to give with such user dissatisfaction, and it's rumored that Microsoft is planning to backtrack in its update to Windows 8 -- aka Windows 8.1, aka Windows Blue -- by allowing users to bypass the tiled Start screen and boot directly into the Desktop. It also may bring back the beloved Start button and menu options that have been a Windows trademark since Windows 95.

These changes are not guaranteed to be baked into Windows 8.1/Blue, but if they are it's Microsoft acknowledging that it went too far in force-feeding the Start screen to users. And while it's a victory for disgruntled users who want Windows 8 to be like Windows 7, it's a defeat for Microsoft because the whole Windows 8 architecture is based around the Start screen and the Windows Store for mobile touch-screen apps (and thereby revenue).

Resurrecting a very PC feature like the Start button may be the only way to get people to trust and like Windows 8, which would give the PC market a boost. But it also contradicts Microsoft vision of a touch-based, tablet-friendly Windows. Microsoft would clearly rather make progress with touch capability and mobile apps. That's the future. A Start button and direct boot into the desktop is the past.

What do you think? Would you be motivated to buy a new ultrabook or desktop if Microsoft made Windows 8 more like Windows 7?

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