Windows 8: Return of the Start Menu

The Verge is reporting that the iconic Start Menu will be returning in Windows 8.1. For those of you that don’t follow such things, Microsoft removed the start menu is Win8 in when they replaced the desktop as the primary UX canvas in favor of the new tile interface, called Modern (originally called Metro).

Removing the menu would probably have been a non-issue if the user experience of traditional and Modern designed apps were seamless but there is a critical distinction that makes this all but impossible to rectify, the current generation of Modern apps run in a dedicated focus, meaning they consume the entire screen and have no menu overlay that is omnipresent (the Charm bar gets close but you still have to swipe it to see it and those menus are almost entirely app focused). Meanwhile, for popular windows app like Office which run in the traditional Desktop mode the user spends most of their time not in Modern but in desktop mode. The result of this is that in order to access a different app you have to jump back to the Modern tile interface and run another app which takes you back to desktop (there are other ways to do this but that is the rough cut, it’s an extra step and a minor hassle every time).

I am happily using a Lenovo Yoga in laptop and tablet mode, and I have found that when I am in tablet mode I want to use the tile interface exclusively while in laptop mode all I care about is the desktop. The fact that Windows can accommodate both modes is itself no small feat and points to a major success point for the new Windows. but the forced convergence that resulted from removing the Start menu doesn’t work and they should bring it back. I don’t want Microsoft to become the new Apple, where the only way I can do things is the way that the ghost of Steve Jobs declares acceptable, I want options.

Much has been written about the decline of PC sales globally and almost without exception the blame has been pinned on Windows 8. I’m not buying that argument and here’s why, if Windows 8 were causing buyers to flee we would see large gains in competitive platforms, which for the sake of this argument is really easy to identify, Apple.

This is not happening, what is happening is that people are increasingly buying tablets, netbooks, and other alternative devices instead of new desktop and laptop computers. And why shouldn’t they when even 5 year old hardware performs good enough in a web browser dominated world? I feel no imperative to upgrade Windows and Mac hardware in my household (other than my internal geek factor) while we have been adding a never ending stream of mobile  devices to our mix, from tablets to the Logitech internet radio I bought a few months ago.

I am confident that Microsoft will turn the crank a few more times to tighten up Windows 8, and I am looking forward to new hardware innovations that blur the lines between mobile and portable, desktop and tablet, and I hope there will be more hardware that offers Android and Windows mode options, such as the big Asus tablet/desktop that was unveiled last month.

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