Scuttlebutt says Microsoft may have another pleasant surprise in store for desktop PC users with the upcoming Windows 8.1 Update 1 expected in March or April. Microsoft is currently testing having the Windows 8.1 refresh boot to the desktop by default for keyboard-and-mouse PC users, according to the long-reliable Russian Windows leaker Wzor and seconded by The Verge’s just-as-well-sourced Tom Warren.
Warren stresses that the test is subject to change between today and the final Update 1 roll out, of course, but for now it looks like Microsoft could scale back its ambitious push to turn the Start screen into the primary face of Windows.
The news could make Windows 8.1 more appealing to business users, as well as longtime Windows XP and Windows 7 users reluctant to make the switch to Microsoft’s latest OS. While it’s possible to force Windows 8.1 itself to boot to the desktop, the option isn’t enabled by default, and it’s buried in an arcane submenu in a dark corner of the operating system.
Although many will see Microsoft’s reversal as a defeat for the company’s modern UI, here’s hoping Microsoft doesn’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. Despite its shortcomings when you slap it onto a traditional PC, the Start screen and modern UI apps are great on a tablet.
The UI is attractive, relatively easy to use (not counting the charms) and is nicely designed for touch interfaces. It just doesn’t fit for the bulk of devices running Microsoft software, which are currently still laptop and desktop PCs. Here’s hoping that the Start screen remains the default for devices that don’t have a mouse and keyboard attached—if the change happens at all.
Booting to the desktop by default is one of a string of changes expected in Update 1, including the ability to pin modern UI apps to the desktop ; a mouse-friendly, top-of-screen bar with minimize, close, and snap options for modern UI apps; a right-click options menu for modern UI apps and Live Tiles; and search and power buttons in the upper right corner of the Start Screen (if you decide to hold on to it).
Beyond Windows 8.1 Update 1
ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley says her sources indicate the default-to-desktop option may not be included in Windows 8.1 Update 1, however, as the final feature set for the update may already be locked into place.
Even if the feature doesn’t make the cut this spring, we may see it next year, as Microsoft’s changes in Update 1 lead up to a larger set of expected tweaks in Windows 9. One popular rumor says Windows 9 will include the ability to run modern UI apps in windowed mode on the desktop, and—oh please oh please—bring back the Start Menu in some way.
Ian is an independent writer based in Israel who has never met a tech subject he didn't like. He primarily covers Windows, PC and gaming hardware, video and music streaming services, social networks, and browsers. When he's not covering the news he's working on how-to tips for PC users, or tuning his eGPU setup.