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Microsoft : Start As You Mean To Go On?

So Microsoft are planning to re-integrate the banished Start button to the ‘traditional’ desktop experience, with the Win 8.1 update.

I’m not entirely sure what to think.

Like many, I was initially repulsed by the touch-screen-centric design of Win 8 and its fragmented UI – one clearly designed for tablets, the other for desktops. The removal of the Start button felt like a business decision as opposed to a user-centric one, like so very many of Microsoft’s recent decisions. Perhaps they need to be reminded what the U in UI stands for?

Yet when the amazingly good offer of an upgrade to Win 8 Pro for £15 popped into my inbox, I capitulated – and haven’t looked backed since. Smooth, swift, stable and featuring some seriously smart upgrades such as the Office ‘ribbon’ in Windows Explorer; Win 8 is a perfectly respectable interface and the removal of the Start button has actually encouraged me to use part of my keyboard that I’ve never used before: the Start button! Like, you know, the real one?!

Now when I want to browse programs or features, I simply hit Start on the keyboard and away I go. Yes, I’m sure that it wasn’t so different before, but the not-so-subtle act of removing the virtual Start button has forced me to press this previously neglected piece of plastic. I like that.

I like the fact that the experience is now a little bit more tactile, real and ‘augmented’ than before. I like that fact that this little button below my left palm now has a purpose in life. I like that fact that I have two, distinctly different UIs embedded into my laptop. I didn’t think I would, but I do. Change, as they say, is as good as a rest.

Remember when it used to even have 'start' written on it?

Remember when it used to even have ‘start’ written on it? Me neither.

So why the apparent crisis of confidence? Why the back-peddling? Why the shame-faced re-introduction of a supposedly retired player? If I had to guess it would be a mixture of three factors:

Firstly, I’m well aware that my newly found passion for the physical Start button won’t be a widespread phenomenon. Many will still begrudge this fragmented approach and removal of a familiar friend. And who can blame them? I don’t recall ever hearing a single soul complain about the Start button – well, no-one outside of Microsoft, at least.

Secondly, the seemingly slow uptake of Win 8 must have made Microsoft pause for thought and search their souls. Unwilling to withdraw so soon from the brave new world of tablets and touch (despite even less impressive sales of Surface), the revival of the Start button is perhaps seen as the equivalent of sending a familiar face round to deliver uncomfortable news. A hollow, token gesture or a welcome olive branch? Time will tell.

Lastly, and most importantly, the removal of the familiar Start button must have surely been seen by the monolithic enterprise sector – Microsoft’s largest market by some considerable margin – as a suicidal move. The last thing that high-pressure, high-turnover business environments want to have to deal with is an issue that, however small, may result in a loss of productivity and need for re-training of staff. How Microsoft could have overlooked this in the race to please the already distracted consumer sector is beyond me. Either that or they were too arrogant to care. Now, you or I might scoff at such an issue being a big deal- all you need is a few hours, you might say, to re-orient – but the negative impact of change can never be underestimated in a business environment. The fact that this change was driven by Microsoft’s arguably futile attempt to crack the consumer tablet market must have seemed like the final insult to Chief Information Officers and Network Managers the world over. Ye reap what ye sow.

And so the Start button wanders back in from the wild, tentatively knocking on the door, peace offerings in-hand.

Just tell it I’m busy, would you?

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One Comment

  1. I have had Windows 8 since the beta, and I just can’t make myself like it. Whenever I want to do anything, I always end up just going into the main desktop part. I ended up turning the machine into a dual boot with Ubuntu installed – now I only go into Windows if I absolutely have to use something I can’t get with Ubuntu.
    It is nice to use, but Win 8 just feels like a pretty skin on top, although it was a brave move by MS in the first place.
    The removal of the start button- why did they do it? What possible purpose was there in its removal, very very strange.
    I find my combo of Ubuntu on desktop and a Chromebook as a laptop brilliant for both casual use and ‘oh shit what the hell has gone wrong with the site now’ use.

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