Because Microsoft thinks it knows what's best for users and apparently wants to confuse the living daylights out of them, Windows 8 has no Start button.
I'll just say that again so it sinks in: Windows 8 has no Start button.
What it has is a tablet-friendly Start screen packed with tiles. It's very pretty, and probably quite pleasant on a tablet, but fairly crummy on a current-model desktop or laptop.
Things get a lot more familiar-looking if you click the Desktop tile—ahh, there's the Windows we know and love—but once again, Windows 8 has no Start button.
Which begs the question: How exactly are you supposed to navigate the Desktop without one?
Thankfully, a growing number of programs (including Start8) can restore Start for you. The one I'm testing now is called Pokki, and it instantly transformed Windows 8 into an operating system I can actually use on my trusty old Acer laptop.
Pokki actually works with all versions of Windows (as far back as XP), offering to replace the stock Start button and menu with its own pretty, icon-oriented system.
During installation, be sure to check the option to use Pokki as your Start menu. When that's done, just head to the Windows 8 Desktop and you'll see something that looks like an acorn where the Start button normally resides.
Click and you'll see a menu that, while not exactly identical to Windows 7, looks familiar enough. All Programs, Control Panel, Documents, a Shut Down menu—they're all there.
If you right-click the Pokki Start button and choose Settings, you'll see a Boot to desktop option. Yep, you guessed it: Now your Windows 8 system will start in Desktop mode instead of the Start screen, meaning you can enjoy a more traditional Windows experience.
As a huge added bonus, Pokki also provides quick and easy access to an app store that's home to dozens of, well, Windows 8-style apps. You can use them or not, but they all run within the Desktop environment, so you don't have to switch back to the Start screen or anything.
From what I've seen of Pokki so far, it's a great remedy for folks who simply can't live without a Start button—or don't want to. It's free, easy to use, and downright sexy.
Have you found a Start-button alternative you like better? Tell me about it in the comments!
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.