All About Microsoft’s Mary Jo Foley is reporting (based on her anonymous sources) that Windows 8.1—also known as “Windows Blue”—will include a Start button and a boot-to-desktop option.
Windows 8 famously (or infamously, depending on your point of view) dumped the Start button from the desktop interface. Realizing that the deletion of a longtime feature would spark much wailing and gnashing of teeth among the Windows faithful, Microsoft even issued a corporate blog post nearly a year in advance of Windows 8’s release, describing existing Start menu as a “poor everyday launcher” in need of revision.
In place of a Start button, Windows 8 featured a Start screen filled with colorful tiles linked to applications. That screen was meant to make Windows 8 a viable operating system for tablets in addition to “traditional” PCs; touch-screen users to tap the tiles to access applications, while those who wanted the old-school Windows experience could flip over to the desktop interface. But users complained anyway about the Start button’s disappearance, leading Microsoft to (reportedly) reintroduce it in Windows 8.1.
“The new Start Button supposedly will look just like the Start Button that is currently part of the Charms menu in Windows 8: An angled, stylized window,” Mary Jo Foley wrote. “It likely will be turned on by default, but can be turned off for those who like the Start Button-free design that debuted with Windows 8.”
Microsoft also has the aforementioned boot-to-desktop option in the works, which would allow users who dislike the Windows 8 Start screen to skip it entirely in favor of the desktop.
Over at his Supersite for Windows, Paul Thurrott confirmed the Windows 8.1 changes with his own sources. “When you hover over Start button, the button changes color, with a black background and the accent color used on the flag logo,” he wrote. “Yes, it looks exactly like the Start Charm, with similar animations.” The boot-to-desktop option, he added, is “off by default.” (He also offers some screenshots of the new Start option, which seems to differ in certain key ways from the Start button-and-menu of yore.)
If these alterations to Windows 8 are confirmed, then Microsoft is rolling back some of the boldest changes to its longtime operating-system franchise. But is that rollback enough for consumers and businesses that stayed away from Windows 8 because of its deviations from the traditional interface?
For Microsoft, that’s potentially a multi-billion-dollar question. Right now, analysts are down on Windows 8’s commercial prospects. “Most IT shops are still too focused on migrating to Windows 7 to bother with Windows 8 anytime soon, if at all,” read a recent report from Forrester. “IT won’t set Windows 8 as a standard, but that won’t stop workers from using it.”
On top of that, Windows 8 also faces the dual challenge of an anemic PC market and a tablet market dominated by Apple’s iOS and Google Android. A reintroduced Start button might cheer up some Windows users, but it’s unclear what Microsoft could do to spark Windows 8 adoption in that sort of hostile environment.