Microsoft is resurrecting the Start button with Windows 8.1, a.k.a. Windows Blue, according to a report Monday by the Verge. This might be great news, as the missing button is one of the biggest complaints about Windows 8, along with the perception that an upgrade requires a steep learning curve.
Windows 8 is so different from its predecessors that PC makers have blamed it for lagging sales and businesses have shied away from deploying it for fear of having to train employees.
But is this really true? Are there good reasons for using Windows 8 at work? Can the Start button save Windows, come version 8.1?
According to Stephen Kleynhans, a research VP with Gartner, business adoption of Windows 8 is very low, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, Windows 7 also had very little business uptake after six months.
"Businesses are the poorest barometer of an operating system’s success in its early days because they’re very slow in doing anything," Kleynhans says. "Right now businesses are by and large head down in trying to figure out how to get Windows XP out of their environment, and they’re doing it through Windows 7."
Steep learning curve?
I use Windows 8 for work and like it. Admittedly, a 20-minute Geek Squad hands-on at Best Buy helped considerably when I bought my laptop. While companies may need to train employees, this doesn't need to be a huge investment. I can see enterprises offering an hour-long Windows 8 training session in the company auditorium. What’s the big deal?
In fact, Kleynhans says that while companies might not like the idea of investing in Windows 8 training, it’s not a significant factor in keeping down adoption of the OS. After all, it takes time for companies to get budgets and projects set up. "And with Windows 8 a lot of them are saying, 'All my resources are still tied up with Windows 7.'"
Can the Start button save Windows?
First off, the missing Start button isn’t that big of a deal. The capability to shut off your machine, which the Start button offered, is still there. It’s just found in the Charms bar, which you access by dragging your mouse to the bottom right of your screen. It's the same thing with frequently used apps. Just tap the Windows key, and you’ll go to the Start screen, where you can double click an app icon. Can’t find the Snipping Tool? Just search for it in the Charms bar.
Computerworld’s Preston Gralla points out that bringing back the Start button might actually be a big mistake for Microsoft. Apparently, the Start button Microsoft may include with Windows Blue doesn’t work the way it did in Windows 7. It merely pulls up the Windows 8 Modern interface that’s vastly different from the Windows of old.
Boot directly to desktop
There's also a rumor that Windows Blue will let you boot directly to the desktop and skip the start screen altogether. That’s because the Windows 8 dual interface—both the desktop view and the Modern-style Start screen built for touch-enabled devices—can seem at odds with each other.
When I’m researching and writing, I keep both Chrome and Word open side-by-side on the desktop. I can see emails as they come in, and keep several tabs to various websites open while I work in Word.
Would the option to bypass the Start screen appeal to a knowledge worker like me? Meh. My work machine is a Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, a fantastic touchscreen Ultrabook. While I spend my work day mostly on the desktop, if I’m killing time on the sofa the Metro interface is more appealing.
Who should upgrade to Windows Blue?
Kleynhans says lots of companies are playing around with mobility and investing in small numbers of Windows 8 tablets to see if they make sense for particular users or business functions. When they’re done with that testing—probably by the end of the summer—you’ll see more companies investing in new tablets running Windows 8.
As for people working on a traditional PC, there aren’t huge reasons to start using Windows 8, rumored enhancements coming or not.
“It boots up a little faster, it has some interesting security capabilities, they’ve tweaked a few things here and there around the way you copy files and the way certain communication protocols work. These are all nice to have but probably not enough to cause a company to want to jump into it,” Kleynhans says.
However, when it comes to Windows 8 tablets it’s another matter, particularly for certain kinds of workers—such as salespeople, factory workers or people who flit from meeting to meeting.
“[They’re good for] people who need to be on the go. They need to have more information at their fingertips and deal with applications that are a little richer than you can typically handle on a smartphone,” he says.
And of course,companies that tend to be tech-forward might simply like the idea of having the latest OS on their machine. If that’s you, there’s no shortage of rumors about how Windows Blue will change Windows.