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Starting Over: Windows 8 To DeScrewUpify Itself?

Gimme transparency, not an explosion of garish colour

Now that everyone who isn’t mad has roundly agreed that Windows 8 is a whole bucketful of stupid, even Microsoft are acknowledging that trying to bruteforce people into using their computers completely differently was a silly move. Yes, Windows 8 basically has cheerful old Windows 7 lurking underneath its disruptive, tablet-orientated Metro skin, but the wasted seconds spent getting it to it every time, or inefficiently trying to get to your program or option of choice, really stack up as the months wear on, and the frustration that the OS keeps insisting on doing its own thing doesn’t go away. Now multiple reports are coming in that the forthcoming 8.1 update will allow booting to the traditional desktop, and might even reinstate the Start button.

Obviously, ‘report’ and ‘rumour’ can often mean about as much as ‘duckfwibble’ and ‘sprouthack junior’ when it comes to unconfirmed stories about technology and games, but there does seem to be quite a lot pointing to a slight change in direction for the update codenamed Windows Blue. We’ve got ZDNet and The Verge both rounding up apparently trusted sources talking about a newly-panned option for those who wish it to skip the Metro Start screen and have their PC operate in desktop mode by default. Someone’s also dug up the reference “CanSuppressStartScreen” in the registry of early Win 8.1 builds.

While not confirmation as such, we’ve also got Windows Product Manager Ian Moulster telling TechRadar that “I’ve changed my pitch from starting with the Start screen to starting with the Windows desktop when I talk to people about Windows 8. When you show them the desktop it looks like Windows 7 and in fact it is pretty much like Windows 7 except that it’s faster, it’s more secure, uses less power, starts up quicker and has interface tweaks across the board.” While he goes on to defend the Start Screen, any kind of Microsoft concession that the desktop is what people want is a pretty big deal.

A little vaguer than that is talk of the sorely-missed Start button making a comeback. Unfortunately it will apparently just load the Metro Start screen rather than the traditional list of programs, but hey, at least it’s an attempt at reparation. To be honest though, there’s a bunch of perfectly good third-party programs around which add a Start button and a traditional Start menu, so it’s not going to be a game-changer. It’s more about what it signifies: that perhaps Microsoft are releasing they can’t get away with force people to abandon tried and tested ways of interacting with their computers. If they can make Windows 8.1 less of an arse, it’s good news for PC gamers – Win 8 is a little speedier than 7, some of the widgety things are quite nice and the desktop’s a little more visually customisable too.

Hell, if 8.1 really does do all this stuff, I might even switch to it. I’ve had 8 sat on a secondary hard drive for months, but right now it just drives me spare. I tried, I really did, but using the Metro stuff now is the proverbial red rag to me these days: stick a ring through my nostrils and call me bully. My precious, precious seconds!

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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