Bring back the Start button, Microsoft!

Bring back the Start button, Microsoft!

Summary: Empowering users with familiar tools wouldn't be a sign of surrender, but rather a sign that Microsoft listens to its customers.

TOPICS: Microsoft

ZDNet's Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley reported on an intriguing possibility for the rumored forthcoming Windows Blue update to Windows 8: That Microsoft could bring back the Start Button for desktop mode and/or allow users to boot directly to the desktop.

These are features that Microsoft should indeed provide to its customers in the next release.

Some analysts and designers might argue against these moves. To truly reimagine Windows, the argument might go, users must be taught a completely new way to navigate. Key to the Windows 8/RT user interface (UI) are charms, which take the place of the Start Button and which provide a simplified navigation system that's particularly suited to touch screens.

Users should segue to charms full time, even when they are in Desktop Mode, if they are to build a bridge to the modern UI.

Those claims might hold some truth. Yet Microsoft should reinstitute the Start Button anyway, because:

Users aren't living in the modern UI environment alone yet

While estimates of the numbers vary, the Windows Store is widely perceived as not having as many apps as competing ecosystems and of missing important (named) apps. For example, a Twitter app only came to Windows 8 in March, 2013.

As one PC World reviewer put it recently, users can survive in the modern UI environment alone, but "the Windows Store simply doesn't have the apps you need to support a full-time workload." Until the Windows Store app ecosystem expands, it doesn't make sense to handicap users of Desktop Mode software.

Hybrids and convertibles are more like laptop replacements than tablets

A device like Microsoft's Surface Pro — with a dual-core Intel Core processor and detachable keyboard — can act as a laptop replacement for some classes of users. As such, Desktop Mode remains integral to the user experience, meaning that it should work at least as well as Windows 7.

Windows 8 isn't optimal on non-touchscreen devices

The design motifs for Windows 8's modern UI really shine in a touch-first environment. But some of that luster disappears on non-touchscreen devices. For users without touchscreen on their devices, the desktop experience needs to remain top-notch. Otherwise, they might as well have just stuck with Windows 7.

Users are already using Start Button emulators and workarounds

As usual, when users are unhappy, they find work-arounds. Numerous Start Button emulators with names like StartIsBack, Pokki, and StartMenu are proliferating — and many of them are free. Yet I&O departments can't support users easily with these emulators and would prefer a Start Button that's simply part of the OS.

We live in what Forrester calls The Age of the Customer, a time in which companies that obsess about their customers earn a competitive advantage in their markets. During the period when the Windows Store's modern UI apps continue to grow in number and sophistication, Windows 8 users need to have the strongest possible Desktop Mode experience.

Empowering users with familiar tools wouldn't be a sign of surrender, but rather a sign that Microsoft listens to its customers.

J. P. Gownder is a Vice President and Principal Analyst. Follow him on Twitter: @jgownder. 

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Losing the start button has nothing to do with Metro

    You don't need it. It takes up valuable real estate on the desktop. You get to the same place by moving your mouse to the same corner that the start button used to reside. They could have done exactly the same thing in Windows 7 and have had the same people complain about it.

    However, if having that start button there as a sort of security blanket is helpful, I have nothing against MS putting in the option to have it there again, as long as it's an option. I don't care which one is the default, but I do want the option to remove it, because I prefer having the extra real estate on the task bar.
    Michael Kelly
    • You really don't know what you're talking about

      Having to hover in a corner and wait for the toolbar to appear is not an effective UI. If you are really that pressed for real-estate, you can auto-hide the task bar. I work on a desktop PC that does not have the button the tablet has and it shows in usability.
      • Wait for toolbar to appear?

        You don't have to wait for the toolbar to appear, just move your mouse in the corner and click, takes you right to the start screen, click again and it takes you back to where you were. Easy, fast, simple.
        • metro unusable on remote desktop

          Metro is effectively unusable on a remote desktop. It doesn't matter if you hover or not in a corner, you won't always get a menu. You have to experiment with the mouse and have to practice the right motion to get the menus to do anything.
          • "as long as it's an option"

            AND an option to also disable the Metro screen on boot-up.

            And that's all many people want. To have some degree of control over this.
      • Your subject makes me laugh

        considering that it is obvious from the rest of your comment that you've never even tried Windows 8.
        Michael Kelly
        • Both of yours made me laugh

          First, the start button took up a microscopic amount of desktop space in Windows 7. It was a small round button. Second, you don't actually get that desktop real estate back. You can't actually use that space for anything since it's a hot area. When you put your mouse over that area, it functions only as a hot area to click. It can't be used for anything else. So, basically, you have an invisible start button still taking up the same space.

          For the majority of us, the Start button is at the bottom of the list of things we want back. First, I want to get rid of Metro completely on my desktop PC. I have zero use for the limitations it imposes on productivity. Second, I want my gadgets back. I want my live information at a glance, not on a separate screen. Third, I want the Start menu back. Fourth, I want the Start button. Notice I list that separately, because having the menu attached to a hot area would be fine. It's the menu we miss most, not the button. Lastly, I want Aero back. That interface was as close to perfect as I've ever used.
          • The stick with Windows 7

            You are not ready for anything else.

            Windows is going to move away from the desktop. Start button comes back, but takes you to the start screen, which is the start menu spread out across a whole screen.

            At least, that is my quess.
      • if you used win 8 you would see your wrong

        the start button and charm bar are nnot the same thing. it is as simple as press the windows button and press the first letter of the program you want to launch and boom there it is. much easier then looking through the hundreds of sub menus in the start button. the start button is stupid by comparison and people that have a problem with it will never be happy because they did not get their way not because it is somehow harder...
    • "You don't need it. It takes up valuable real estate on the desktop."

      What? You do know that the taskbar at the bottom is still there, right? It takes up no more space than an icon.
      • That's icon space I can leave for something else

        such as pinned apps or tray icons (I've seen too many issues that could have been prevented if hidden tray icons were not hidden from the user).
        Michael Kelly
        • That's up to the user

          That shouldn't be up to you.

          Some people want that space for a Start button. You said earlier you'd have no problem with it if it were an option.

          Second thoughts?

    • And all I want the option

      To remove the whole of the Metro Madness, it takes too much space in my system, I have no use for it and it distracts me from real work.

      So here is a deal, you should be able to keep all the Metro crp...sorry...I mean stuff you like and I will be able to remove it completely. How does this sound…it does sound like “an option for the users” doesn’t it?
      • No deal

        It's no deal because you already have what you want in Windows 7. If that's what you want, use it. No one's stopping you.
        Michael Kelly
        • Partially true

          You are right I am using Windows 7, but I would also like Microsoft to sell more copies of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 and in its current state only you and your friends are buying it…not enough people I would say.

          I would also like a nice future upgrade path from Windows 7 to Windows 8 for all the businesses out there that are using Windows 7 at the moment including my workplace. But again this cannot happen with the current Windows 8 state.

          So if it was up to you to arrange the deals for Microsoft, we better all run and hide under another OS. But I expect that the Metro fever will come to an end when the accountants start asking questions and we will have a better deal.
          • The things people are saying about Metro now

            are the same things people said about the XBox and Vista. And they were right about both in the beginning, but MS made some changes and both products improved by their next generations (XBox 360 and Windows 7).

            Windows 8 is in MUCH better shape than XBox and Vista were. There were fundamental flaws with the others, Windows 8 needs tweaks but that's about it. Primarily it needs to have better options for non-touchscreen users and for those who still are heavily reliant on the desktop interface. Those are easy fixes that require little imagination to fix, it merely needs a bit of resolve on MS's part to understand where their user base is at. And a Windows tutorial like we used to get the days of old would be ever so helpful to those who don't actively follow the tech rags.
            Michael Kelly
          • Here's what Michael Kelly said...

            "I have nothing against MS putting in the option to have it there again, as long as it's an option."

            So is that true or not true? WELL?

            You seem to have second thoughts and are going into control freak mode again.
        • No one's stopping you from using Win7?

          Really, Michael?
          Why don't you walk into Best Buy, or Office Depot, or Costco, or...
          All the Windows 7 desktops and laptops your heart desires!
          • Have you tried?

            Haven't walked into a store lately, I'll admit, but if you shop on line, as of this writing, Best Buy is offering 636 Windows 7 computers and 416 Windows 8 computers.

            Don't know whether linking is appropriate or is automatically flagged, but here goes...

            Look under "Narrow Your Results" in the left-hand column.

            -- Timothy J. McGowan
          • Why not order a Win7 pc online?