Will 'normal' Windows users want a Start button for Windows 8?

Will 'normal' Windows users want a Start button for Windows 8?

Summary: SweetLabs joins a handful of other companies offering to bring the more familiar Start menu/Button back to Windows 8.


Readers of this blog -- other than my mom (hi, mom!) -- are not normal, regular users. Sorry, you/we are not.

"Normal" users are people who get their work (and play) done on Windows, but who are not techies or those who write about them. They are the people who are not likely to have done any real testing of Windows 8 so far. And they are the people who are either going to love or hate Windows 8 when they get to use it in retail stores for the first time next week.

They are the "regular" people like Lockergnome's Chris Pirillo's dad -- a video of whom attempting to use a test build of Windows 8 went viral. Whether you consider Pirillo's video a page-view stunt or not (I am in the "not" camp), you might want to check out another video of his created in conjunction with startup SweetLabs.

This time, Pirillo captured the reactions of various folks in the University District area of Seattle last month who got to try Windows 8 for their first time. These users were checking it out on laptops with keyboards. Their reactions run from interest, to puzzlement, to nervous laughter (in the case of one woman who identified herself as an admin who is quite conversant with Windows).

Check it out:

 What's SweetLabs' interest/involvement here?

The startup, which is backed by both Google Ventures and Intel Capital, makes a product called Pokki. It's an app store for Windows 8 desktop/PC users that allows users to download and run "hundreds" of custom-built apps, some written by SweetLabs and others from third-party developers, on Windows 8.

The app store part of SweetLabs' mission is totally uninteresting to me, as I'd think it would be to many other Windows users who don't really need more games, entertainment and other basic apps for Windows 8.

But SweetLabs also is introducing as of today a new version of Pokki for Windows 8 that includes a reimagined (yes, I went there) Start menu and button for Windows 8.


There are other Start button add-ons for Windows 8 already, including Classic Shell and Stardock's Start8. (It also looks like Samsung is going to offer a downloadable Start Menu option for its Windows 8 laptops, too.) Pokki offers another way to make Windows 8 more familiar and usuable to the casual/normal Windows user. It's not just your Windows 7 start menu pasted onto Windows 8. 

Pokki for Windows 8, a free downloadable application, includes the so-called Pokki Menu. Users can just use the menu and not the app store, if they so choose, populating the menu with apps already installed on their PCs. The Pokki Menu also includes a centralized notification center, an iPhone/Android smartphone-like home screen for organizing apps and an app recommendation service.

As I've said before, while I think a Start Button-free Windows 8 and Windows RT are fine for touch tablets, I'm not sold on the new Microsoft interface on PCs, desktops and laptops. And yes, your mileage may vary. We all use our PCs differently. Choice is good, people! 

It should be very interesting to see what the "normals" think of Windows 8 starting next week. If you're the kind of person intrigued by the new and unfamiliar, you might love it. If you're in the who moved my cheese camp -- or the Office Ribbon Haters Club -- you may not. I'm hoping whatever brochure-ware I'm hearing Microsoft and its partners make available with new Windows 8 PCs to help familiarize users with all the new gestures, shortcuts and navigational changes is good....

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Start-Ups, Tablets, PCs


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Win8 Doesn't Need a Start Button

    I am firmly in the camp that Windows8 doesn't need a start button.

    That said, I think that there will be lots of headaches for people as they make the change. Eventually, people will get used to the new interface, and there will be no real problems, mouse or touchscreen.

    The transition will not be smooth or quiet for many. But it will be functional for those willing to adopt and adapt.
    • It's like Office2007 Ribbon all over again.

      Needs a while to get used to.
      • But why why should we have to?

        I've been using a technet preview of Windows 8 for a while now. And yes, I will eventually get used to it. But why? On a desktop its just different to be different - not different to be better.
        • I agree completely.

          We shouldn't HAVE to. If they are going to introduce "Modern UI" to the world, it needs to be an option not a requirement for use.
        • It's about the One Windows vision

          Microsoft wants the interface to be the same across all of their devices. It means that someone who knows how to use the tablet will know how to use the desktop. Or someone who has used a Windows Phone will immediately know how to use the tablet.

          I think this is a good idea.

          We all know that users struggle when you change things from the "norm". For example, changing options. Maybe in one program it's Tools -> Options. In another, it's Edit -> Preferences. You've got to learn a new method for every new program you get. Many people give up at that point!
          • I see what you're saying ...

            ... though I still disagree.

            I can completely appreciate the desire to unify the Windows platforms. It's one of those "great on paper" ideas.

            But the truth is that we use desktops and tablets in fundamentally different ways, and generally for different purposes. Back in the early 2000s, Bill Gates tried to make Tablets popular; however, they were hampered by the desktop interface. Now, it seems like they're trying to reverse approach - they want to import the tablet interface onto the desktop.

            I'm all for a unified platform, but it should be at the data level, not the interface level. Yes, I would love my calendars, contacts, files and user preferences to sync across devices. Yes, I agree that standardizing the control panel is a good idea. But please, let me access my desktop as a desktop, and my tablet as a tablet!
          • Cassette tapes worked fine, too, but...

            You can't play a compact disk on a cassette deck. Microsoft is attempting to evolve the entire concept of computing. Either they're right or they're wrong, but I admire that they were brave enough to make a bold choice instead of fearing people's short-term reactions. Some people stayed loyal with cassettes for a long long time, and maybe unlike cassettes Windows 8 will go back to the old-fashioned 1990's computing paradigm. But either way, you can't grasp the future if your hands are tied to the past.
          • Change is good-Not always

            I would not like it if every time I bought a new car the pedals were replaced by levers in the central console, door levers were moved to different places on the doors outside and speedometers used Roman numerals rather than standard numerals. I could learn this, but as "cornpie" wrote, "Why?" I don't want to learn a "new OS." I want to do real work with my computer.
          • That's my issue, too.

            I basically don't care what OS is running on the device. I just want to get things done in the simplest possible way. The user interface should be minimally invasive, rather than full screen and limited to two running applications. In Windows 7, the user interface IS minimally invasive and FAR more flexible. I can have a dozen application windows open across multiple displays. I can have my gadgets which show calendar, time, weather, CPU & network status, etc., open at the same time as all of my applications. The ugliness formerly known as "Metro" is ten steps backward in letting people get work done.

            The one thing Microsoft didn't think about is, since people are going to have to learn an entirely new way of working anyway, more of them are going to consider switching to OS X than ever before. The learning curve will actually be less than adapting to Metro. I've already been telling folks to try both before they buy because needing to use two different GUIs is just an extra layer of stupidity, especially when the newer of the two is far more restrictive.
          • One Windows Vision

            It's not a bad idea, particularly with respect to code base (opps! RT kind of screws that up) but to force this UI on desktop users who are interested in getting work done supposedly to ease the transition to using Windows Phone (not likely) or a Window tablet is arrogance at its worse and totally disrespectful of an established user base. There is no valid reason why MS couldn't have a toggle for their new idea or a UI that people already know. The existence of multiple products like ClassicMenuShell for Windows 7 (and apparently 8) and the Ubit ribbon fixes for that ribbon UI in Office that is more hated than loved indicates what the majority of established customers want. MS should worry about underlying technology issues rather than functionally bullying users to use a computer in a way they intramurally deem appropriate. As Mary noted, choice is good.
        • I agree

          I'm a strong supporter of the Ribbon. I think it has absolutely improved the interface for Office.

          But that's because the ribbon drastically improved the accessibility of Office functions. All of a sudden, it became very easy to locate and use rather complicated functions.

          I'm not against UI change, but it has to serve a purpose. I'm still waiting to see how the Metro UI improves desktop functionality.
      • At least you can see everything in the ribbon.

        At least you can see everything in the ribbon.

        It's all there, you just have to know which tab it's under, much like you had to do with menus.

        Windows 8 is worse - it hides things. It's mystery meat navigation. It's actually the opposite philosophy of the ribbon.
        • Say what?

          "At least you can see everything in the ribbon."

          Bullcrap. I've been using MS Office 2007 since release (it's part of the job here in the IT department) and I can't find everything; nor do a lot of the old keyboard shortcuts work.

          Change for the sake of change COSTS US MONEY. Yes, I am shouting. It costs us about $1000 per user to change the interface because they have to be trained to use their computers all over again (and that's cheaper than lost productivity, which would result if we just threw them into the deep end and let them figure it out all by themselves).
          Rich Tietjens
          • It's been what, five years?

            "I've been using MS Office 2007 since release (it's part of the job here in the IT department) and I can't find everything"

            It's been what, five years?

            There's only two places a command can be: In the ribbon, or in the "More Commands..." when you customize the Quick Access Toolbar. If it's not in one of those two places, it likely doesn't exist.

            Surely by now you know this. If not, then you're probably beyond hope and probably should retire from being an IT professional.

            "Change for the sake of change COSTS US MONEY. Yes, I am shouting."

            Shout all you want - it wasn't change for the sake of change. Microsoft had a reason to make the change: To reduce their support costs from people not being able to find stuff. They had a blog that explained everything.

            And from the way the ribbon stuck in 2010 and was placed in other products, it sounds like it was a success.

            Just because YOU have troubles five years later doesn't mean EVERYBODY is that slow to retrain.
          • I think what

            Rich Tietjens is saying is that, yes, even though you can see everything in the ribbon, they are ICONS with no description. If you are used to scanning a menu for words related to what you want to do, an icon does you no good. Plus then you have to associate each icon with it's function, and there are a lot of those icons there.

            Even then, the way they are arranged in each tab hardly any sense... there are icons in one tab that would make more sense in another. Microsoft just put them wherever they thought would be best. As usual, what Microsoft deems "best" is hardly ever actually what a user would do.
          • They're icons with plenty of descriptions . . .

            "they are ICONS with no description."

            Just fired up Word 2010 to check your claim. Sorry, you're wrong.

            They're icons with plenty of descriptions:

            -The only icons with no labels are the ones in the Home tab*, which are the common ones. Every other icon in every other tab has a label.

            *Note: This is Word 2010 on a 1080p monitor. At lower resolutions, it may drop labels to save space.

            -All icons are part of groups that have their own labels.

            -All icons have tooltips. And the tooltips usually have a title and short paragraph describing what the icon does.

            Actually, the icons are FAR better documented than any previous version of Word.

            "If you are used to scanning a menu for words related to what you want to do"

            Then you can do so, no problem. With the exceptions listed above, all icons have labels.

            "Even then, the way they are arranged in each tab hardly any sense..."

            They're in clearly labeled groups. They actually seem to be better arranged than the menus in previous versions.

            "there are icons in one tab that would make more sense in another."

            Well, that can be subjective. There's nothing right now that stands out to me as being in the wrong place. And in Office 2010, you can simply customize the ribbon.
          • Erm ...

            I'm sorry to hear that you're having trouble navigating the ribbon, but it really is a big step forward for Office.

            Poorly introduced, I agree, but a big step forward.

            But I really think that, overall, the Ribbon makes things way, way, WAY easier. No more sub-sub-sub-menus to navigate in trying to find an obscure formatting or formula option.
    • "Choice is good, people."

      So why exactly is MS ramming this down the users' throats? It is not for the benefit of the users at all. It is simply for MS to try to somehow get into a dominant position in mobile as well.

      I, for one, will do my part to make sure that does not happen. I truly despise MS for forcing this on ALL the users.

      Give the users a choice - a simple click in a setting somewhere. I will switch to Linux before I learn Metro on the desktop, or whatever it is called.
      • Yes, forcing

        They are forcing users, they are going into business's and homes, and taking people from them, installing a new OS on their computers and making them pay for it. No. That's not whats happening. "Forcing" is not the right term what so ever. If you don't like it, don't pay for the upgrade. Simple as that. If you are that stubborn, and mac fanboy, don't buy it for your Mac. Why Troll comments so much
        • Yes, forcing

          If you buy a new Windows computer, you have NO choice. That is "forcing". It would be extremely simple to give users a choice of desktop on first boot, but MS has decided not to do that.

          And why exactly would I switch to Linux if I am, according to you, a "Mac fanboy"?

          MS is taking an extremely strong and aggressive stance of forcing the users to use the Metro interface whether they like it or not. I am just taking an equally strong stance against it: Give me a choice or I move from Windows.

          Quite simple really.