Making lame excuses for Microsoft's decision to drop the Start button in Windows 8

Is there method to Microsoft's madness, or is the decision pure madness?

Over the past few days I've seem a number of Microsoft pundits come up with lame excuses to try to justify Microsoft's decision to drop the on-screen Start button in Windows 8. Is there method to Microsoft's madness, or is the decision pure madness?

Here's Paul Thurrott's justification:

While it's technically true that the Start button/Orb, which used to adorn the left end of the taskbar on the Windows desktop, is missing in action, most people are missing out on two salient points. First, the Windows desktop is not the primary user interface in Windows 8 anymore. That's the Start screen.

Second, the Start button isn't gone, and it's not going away at all. In fact, it will be present on every single Windows 8 device sold going forward.

He goes on to post a picture of a physical Windows button on a tablet, and points out that a physical Windows Key is required for any PC or device to get the Certified for Windows 8 logo from Microsoft.

Well, I've got two counterpoints to Thurrott's argument. First, and I'm surprised he didn't mention this, it's just the visual 'orb' hat's being removed from the left-hand-side of the taskbar. There will still be an invisible hotspot in that part of the screen that does what the button currently does. Microsoft is kinda assuming that everyone will still go there looking for the Start button and will continue to offer the functionality, albeit without the UI.

Secondly, and I think that this is an important point - is a physical button a step forward or a step back compared to an on-screen button?

Before we answer that, let's consider Apple's iPhone and iPad. Neither of these devices have any sort of on-screen Home/Start button. Did Microsoft 'copy' Apple here? maybe, but that doesn't matter. The difference is that the iOS platform has never had an on-screen Start/Home button. Windows, on the other hand, has had this feature since Windows 95, and people have come to expect it, so I expect that it's removal (even if just the symbolic gesture of removing the UI element) will raise (and possibly knit) a few eyebrows.

Personally, I think that removing an on-screen UI element and replacing it with a physical button (a physical button that most systems already have) seems like a step backwards to me because it penalizes people who prefer using a mouse than a keyboard. I'm happy with the Windows key on keyboards, but the idea of having to rely on a physical button on a device that OEMs can put wherever they want puts me off because I know that OEMs can do boneheaded things. If Microsoft was bold enough to remove the functionality as well as the UI element, that would be one thing, but adopting some sort of halfway gesture seems like sitting on the fence to me, and all the lame excuses are just making that decision seem even lamer.

Either keep the Start button in or remove it completely.

Do you think Microsoft was right to follow in Apple's footsteps and remove the on-screen Start button, or do you think that it's one UI change too far?