At its Build 2014 conference, Microsoft has revealed that a future update to Windows 8.1 will resurrect the Start menu. No, really, stop looking at your calendar — it isn’t April 1 any more. This is isn’t just some half-assed Start menu, either — it’s a rather snazzy combo of the Windows 7 Start menu, plus some Metro-style live tiles. The same Windows 8.1 update will also allow you to run Metro apps in a window on the Desktop. Yes, it took Microsoft more than three years to backtrack on Windows 8′s nightmarish interface and usability changes, but it seems the company is finally coming around to the fact that it shouldn’t ignore the needs of hundreds of millions of PC users.
Take a long, hard look at the screenshot above. (There’s a slightly larger version too, if you want to admire the new Start menu in all its glory.) As you can see, the left side of the Start menu remains virtually unchanged from Windows 7, and the Shut Down button is right where it ought to be, instead of hidden behind a few awkward gestures and clicks. On the right side appears to be a bunch of Metro-style live tiles. Presumably you can configure these, just like the Start screen. “My Computer” appears to be missing, but you should be able to add “This PC” (the Metro live tile that gives you access to the System applet).
In Windows 8.1 Update 1, you can pin Metro apps to the taskbar — but you can’t run them in a window yet
In the current version of Windows 8.1 Update 1 you can pin Metro apps to the taskbar — but as you can see in the screenshot, in a future update, you’ll also be able to run Metro apps in a window. This one change will finally mean that using Metro apps on a desktop PC with a mouse and keyboard won’t be the abominable experience that it is now.
You may have noticed that we keep mentioning that these changes are coming in a future update — that’s because, unfortunately, that’s all the data Microsoft has given us. The Start menu is not being resurrected for Windows 8.1 Update 1 (due on April 8) — rather, there will be another update at some nebulous point in the future that will bring it back, along with windowed Metro feature, and presumably some other changes as well. We had originally heard that the Start menu wouldn’t be coming back until Windows 9, but perhaps its priority has been bumped up a bit — or, more likely, the exact product name/number is in flux. Given Windows 8′s poor adoption and tarnished reputation, I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft rushes to release Windows 9 — but who knows, maybe it will stick to its guns and push out Windows 8.1 Update 2 later this year.
The original Windows 8 Metro interface screenshot that started this whole debacle, way back in June 2011
Earlier, as I told the other writers here in the ExtremeTech bunker about these changes, they all said exactly the same thing: It’s about damn time. Nearly everyone at ExtremeTech is a fan of Windows on the desktop, and thus the last three years have been painful to say the least. Right from the start, when Microsoft first unveiled the Metro-style Start screen in June 2011, I voiced my concerns about its poor suitability for mouse-and-keyboard use. For the first couple of years, Microsoft argued that it had done plenty of testing that proved people liked the Windows 8 interface, and that we’d eventually grow to like Metro. Now, almost three years on from its initial public preview, Microsoft is finally backing down on its touchscreen dream and trying to regain the love and trust of billions of desktop Windows PC users.
If you don’t want to wait for the nebulously scheduled future update that will bring the Start menu back, check out our list of third-party Start menu replacements — they’re all pretty good. Likewise, if you don’t want to wait to run Metro apps in a Desktop window,ModernMix has got you covered.