Windows 8 has been out for almost 6 months now and the reaction has been, in a word, “confusing”. The main painful point with most Windows users revolves around “they took my start menu away.” Microsoft’s biggest gamble was removing the Start menu/button and replace it with the new “Metro” Modern Start Screen.
While this left most users foaming at the mouth, it may not be such a bad thing after all.
I have been using Windows since I was 7 years old. I have used Windows 95, 2000, XP, Vista, 7, and now 8. YES I used Vista, NO it wasn't as bad as people made it out to be but, it was far from perfect. Windows 8, however, left me somewhat surprised. This new operating system has brought about the greatest change to Windows since Windows 95. With 8’s introduction of the new “Modern” environment, Microsoft has done more than just refine and add new features into this new OS. It has changed the Windows paradigm. Most people call it the “FrankenOS” mixing and mashing two different interfaces into one system, I agree.
Yet, where I differ from most people is the statement that without the Start menu/button, Windows 8 is a disaster. I have been using Windows 8 for about two years, if you count the Beta and Developer Previews. I can honestly say it took me a good two hours to get use to not having a Start menu. At first, I felt lost not having everything right at my fingertips in those long lists and sublists of applications, folder locations, and shortcuts. I realized that this was the point. Microsoft wants us to change the way we navigate our PC’s. Whether you do it by “pinning” your desktop applications to the Start screen, taskbar, or simply hitting the “Start” key on your keyboard and searching for the application, all of these new ways are faster than the old menu/sub-menu ways of doing things. In previous versions of Windows you have to click your way through a hierarchy of menu folders. If you miss, you have to start over.
Why the fuss over this new “improved change” then? Well, my experience is my own. I can’t speak for the billions of Windows users out in the world. I am a power user in loose terms, but I am sure there are people out there who use their PC’s in ways I never thought of. However, to show you how I use my own PC, I put a screenshot of my own desktop and Start Screen below. As you can see, I go for a minimalistic approach when it comes to my desktop. All my favorite applications are pinned to the taskbar and everything else I can find in the Start Screen or Search charm. You can even set up files in taskbar to open up to specific locations. So do I miss my Start menu? Not really.
For all the people who do miss it however, do not fret there is hope. Many third party applications exist like ”Start8” by Sardock that can bring back your Start menu. I have tried most of them and some seem to do the job just fine. They even let you boot directly into the desktop, which most will find to be useful. I, however, don't care for boot to desktop. If I log off, I like the ability to boot to the Start Screen to see all the information at a glance and then start up my desktop.
Does that mean that I find the new windows 8 to be perfect? No far from it actually, I spend most of my time in the desktop. The Start Screen is not ideal for a non-touch device. I use the Start Screen to look at the weather or check out the latest tweets; maybe even listen to some Nokia music, but that is all. All the other applications I have on my Start Screen are ones I use rarely or they carried over from my Surface synced to my Microsoft Account. I find myself going into the Start Screen to use the Search charm or sync my Windows Phone device using its modern application.
So why have a Start Screen in the first place? I believe it revolves around Microsoft’s acknowledgement that the world has changed and they must change with it. Understand this is a 'version one' operating system. It may be the 8th version of the legacy desktop, but the rest of it is indeed version one. In my experience version one of anything is far from perfect. This is Windows 8’s problem, it needs time to grow. Most of the applications on the Modern UI are limited and unfinished similar to how Windows Phone 7 first felt when it came out. Innovation does not come on command, it takes time for any OS to be upgraded, changed, or refined. Will this happen to Windows 8? Keep your fingers crossed. As more upgrades come out, such as the new Windows “Blue”, we will see increased functionality and UI change.
Although if you are to believe the latest rumors. Windows “Blue” now known as “Windows 8.1” will see the return of the Start button. Notice I said button and not the menu. No information has come out that Windows 8.1 will bring back the Start menu and I don’t see Microsoft doing that anyway. The Start button will be a compromise for people to have something familiar to hold on to, but I think that a Start button without a Start menu is pointless.
The problem with the Start menu is one of a paradigm shift. Like it or not it’s gone, it’s not coming back. That feeling of frustration you have is probably the same feeling your parents had when they had switch from DOS to GUI in the 90’s. Moreover, I suspect that the desktop is going to become the exception soon. Personally, I hate that notion. I love my desktop, but that is the change we will all have to accept. As desktop computer sales go down and tablet and slim-line touch notebook sales go up, it's clear where consumers are headed to and thats smudgy gorilla glass screens.
If someone knows this truth, it’s definitely Microsoft. I have seen more change come out of Redmond in the past two years then I have seen in fifteen years. They are changing very quickly. For the first time, they went against their beloved vendors and partners to make the Surface tablet. Trust me folks, the Surface is no primer pump for Windows 8, it’s the main show. They will no doubt expand this line more. So whether you hate this new Microsoft or love it, the main point remains. This is definitely not your father’s Microsoft anymore.