Microsoft Re-introduces the Start Button
Other changes in the forthcoming Windows 8.1 include a boot-to-desktop option and improved search.
The Start button is back.
The much-maligned absence of the traditional Windows Start button will appear in the next version of Windows 8, Microsoft recently confirmed.
The details were shared by Antoine Leblond, corporate vice president of Windows program management, in a blog post. Windows 8.1, formerly code-named "Windows Blue," will be available sometime this year as a no-cost update to Windows 8 via the Windows Store. Veteran Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley predicts that this update will appear as a release-to-manufacturing version in August.
Microsoft also plans to release a preview of Windows 8.1 on June 26 in conjunction with the start of the company's developer-oriented Build event in San Francisco.
Leblond offered just a few details and said that Microsoft would talk more about the new update. He characterized the changes as a response to customer feedback.
Start Button. The biggest bombshell appears to be a concession to those wanting a start button. Keyboard and mouse users will be able to access a "Start tip," which looks a lot like the Windows Start charm icon, by pointing their mouse cursors to the bottom left corner of their screens. The icon pops up when the cursor is in that position. In the Desktop mode of Windows 8.1, this Start icon appears on the taskbar, just like a pinned application.
Boot to Desktop. The next thing of note is the new ability to set the operating system to "boot into alternate screens." That capability implies that Windows 8.1 machines could be set to boot directly into the Desktop mode, which may be helpful for organizations that will rely more on using legacy applications, rather than the newer touch-optimized "Windows Store Apps" (formerly known as "Metro" apps).
No Start Menu. Along with a start button, some users wanted a start menu, too. That feature wasn't mentioned by Leblond. Still, he did mention that users of Windows 8.1 will be able to change their settings to see their apps in the Apps view, instead of the tiles view, so having that capability may be a partial concession to not having a start menu. All apps can now be seen in Windows 8.1 by swiping from the bottom of the screen. Users can "filter" their apps, and display them by "name, date installed, most used, or by category," according to Leblond.
Snap More Apps. The improved snap feature in Windows 8.1 will show up to three applications side-by-side, in different windows sizes, on a single screen. However, the number of snapped apps may depend on the device's screen size. Writer Ed Bott, who reported on seeing a preview of Windows 8.1, said that the limit is a maximum of four snapped apps per screen. Bott mentioned a few additional features not noted by Leblond. For instance, the touch keyboard will make it easier to type numbers without swapping keyboard screens.
More PC Settings. Microsoft enhanced the PC Settings charm on the Windows Store App side of Windows 8.1. Leblond said that, with Windows 8.1, "you can do things like change your display resolution, set your power options, see the make and model of your PC, change the product key, let you run Windows Update, and even join a domain -- all from PC Settings." That change brings back easy access to most of the old Windows Control Panel settings, according to Bott's account.
Improved Search. The Bing-powered search capability will be enhanced in Windows 8.1 to display content from various sources, such as SkyDrive, the Web and files on the user's computer. While some commenters in Microsoft's blog post complained that Microsoft will be too prying in aggregating content locally, which could be a privacy concern, that point was addressed by Microsoft representative Brandon LeBlanc.
"Local searches are not propagated to the web or pushed to the web from your device," explained LeBlanc. "Content local on the device you are searching on is just included in the search results on the device -- within the rich search experience Windows 8.1 provides."
Internet Explorer 11. Internet Explorer 11 will arrive with Windows 8.1. Improvements in IE 11 include faster page loads and the ability to have multiple open tabs. The open tabs will sync across devices. Microsoft is also promising a better touch experience with IE 11.
Other new features in Windows 8.1 will enable users to better customize a device's screen appearance, including the ability to run a slideshow of photos on the lock screen using pictures from the local machine or Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service. Users can shoot photos from the lock screen, without logging into Windows 8.1.
Lastly, Microsoft is planning updates to the apps that ship with Windows 8.1, including the Photos app (with new edit features) and the Music app (improved searching).
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.