The evolution of Windows 8 – Part 1: The Start Screen

Windows 8 has come a very long way since its reveal back in June 2011. The OS was first revealed to the world at the D9 conference, and was demoed by Steven Sinofsky and Julie-Larson Green. Since Windows 8 was revealed long before release, most things we saw weren’t final, so things could and probably would change. This new series of posts will look through the various releases of Windows 8 and pin-point all the changes, for better or for worse.

Pre-Release Windows Start Screen

The first ever iteration of the Start Screen was revealed at D9 in 2011 in a build that was compiled pretty closely to the 7989 build that leaked. While 7989 didn’t have a Start Screen, the build shown at D9 did. The Start Screen shown at D9 was the base of Windows 8, the new UI. It designed, but wasn’t ready for primetime. For example, the Start Screen wouldn’t adjust to higher resolutions, as when demoed a few days later at Computex 2011, it was seen that the Start Screen was always running with 3 rows of tiles, instead of adapting to more when running at higher resolutions. This can be seen in this photo: We assume this happened because the Start Screen hadn’t been coded to adjust to anything higher than 1366x768, as that was the minimum that the Start Screen would run with no problems. The default resolution has since changed to 1360x768. As it wasn’t demoed or talked about, we can’t be sure, but it looked like the Start Screen’s tiles were not adjustable in size, they were movable, but not able to change in tile size. As with the Developer Preview, we assume this build of Windows 8 couldn’t close Metro apps either, it also featured a desktop with the Windows 7 UI and start button, but we won’t dive into that today. We’re also pretty certain that this edition of the Start Screen was non-customizable in colour or pattern, as the Developer Preview also wasn’t able to do this.

Windows 8 Developer Preview Start Screen

Moving right along to the first public release of Windows 8. The Windows 8 Developer Preview was the first time Microsoft openly talked about its plans with Windows 8, and how developers were needed for the Windows Store. Along with the Developer Preview, came a tonne of improvements to the Start Screen. The Start Screen was finally able to adjust to some resolutions, but not all. For example, the Start Screen would adjust to a maximum of 5 rows, not 6. This created a large gap between the “Start” text and tiles on monitors with a resolution higher than 1920x1080. At the time, this wasn’t an issue, but going back to the Developer Preview today, that gap almost ruins the Start Screen as a whole. Just like the version before the Developer Preview, the Start Screen wasn’t very customizable. You were not able to change the colours of the Start Screen, and patterns other than the default one didn’t exist, and resizing live tiles was not an option. You also couldn’t name groups of apps.

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Start Screen

The next public version of Windows 8 was called the Consumer Preview, also known as the “Beta”. This build of Windows 8 focused on simulating the final version of Windows 8, so things in this build are very similar to today’s builds of Windows 8. For example, this build introduced the ability to customize the Start Screen with colours and patterns. The Start Screen was customizable with a total of 9 colours and 6 patterns. It wasn’t a lot, but it was a start… See what I did there? The Start Screen introduced the Xbox LIVE games and Xbox Companion apps too, these apps were not available in the Developer Preview. While the Xbox LIVE games and Xbox Companion apps were available, they were only usable in the United States, so people like me who live in the UK were unable to test them out. Not only that, but this build was the first to open the Windows Store, allowing testers to download and test 3rd party apps. While the Windows Store app was available in the Developer Preview, it wasn’t actually usable. This build introduced the ability to group and name apps, this was a feature I was personally very excited about at the time. You could also close apps with a swipe down from the top, this feature wasn’t apparent in the Developer Preview. Apps also had a cool, new open animation that flipped 360 degrees before opening. Anyhow, the Start Screen in the Consumer Preview was 10 times better than that of the Developer Preview, it introduced features that you’d expect to see in a consumer product.

Windows 8 Release Preview Start Screen

Ah, the Release Preview. We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the Start Screen haven’t we? This build of Windows 8 introduced a heap load of more customization options, with 25 colours options but only 6 patterns. Certain Windows LIVE based apps also got their own colour in this build, for example the Mail app was originally green, but was now a darker blue-green in. This build also saw the removable of the Xbox Companion as a default installed app. It was still downloadable through the Windows Store. Most apps within the Windows 8 Release Preview got an update, the Release Preview also introduced 3 new apps, that being News, Sport, and Travel.

Windows 8 RTM Start Screen

What you see above is what 40+ million users are using today. The Windows 8 Start Screen. All that testing was put into action, and this was the final outcome. While it may look similar to what we saw back in 2011, the changes it went through make it a whole new thing. The RTM introduced a new Windows Store app icon, as well as 20 patterns and colours to choose from. This version of Windows 8 was designed and developed with consumers in mind, and the Developer Preview, Consumer Preview and Release Preview all helped shape the Start Screen. The Start Screen in the RTM is so much faster, it feels quicker to use. It’s easier to use with a mouse and keyboard too, which is a plus for many who had doubts about Windows 8 on desktops. So, there you have it. The Windows 8 Start Screen in one post. What Windows 8 feature would you like to see next? Leave us your suggestions below!