Windows 8.1 is scheduled to bring the Start button back to the Windows 8 desktop. However, it will not include the Start menu. Instead, it’ll simply transport the user out of the desktop and back into the Metro Start screen environment. This is a mistake.
I realize that there lots of people out there who like the Start screen metaphor. And we can argue whether the Start screen is a more productive environment than the traditional desktop until the end of time. However, what isn’t debatable is that such a radical departure from 20 years of training is very expensive and disruptive.
Not everyone, in fact, I would argue not even most people are particularly familiar with using computers even today. They have some expertise with some piece of software but in terms of navigating the operating system itself, their understanding is remarkably fragile. I run into this every day when I deal with enterprise customers (who, I might add, represent a significant percentage of the 5+ million Start8 users out there).
I don’t think most technically savvy people realize just how reliant on documentation the average user is. Whether that be a computer book, a website, or even the training manual for the support people who are trying to help walk through people updating their cable modem or the streaming video service or access their online banking account, people rely on existing documentation. And that documentation – those 20 years of accumulated knowledge – has real value. This is value that Microsoft is discarding for purposes that make little sense.
I personally have no issue with the Start screen or Metro. I find Metro (even the Windows 8.1 iteration) to be wholly inferior to the desktop for trying to get work done but it’s not something that can’t be improved on with a few more iterations. What I do object to is forcing users to completely switch paradigms where the new one offers no tangible benefit to the bulk of the existing user base. The user base should be gradually migrated over to the Start screen/Metro/ModernUI environment based on the intrinsic advantages it delivers (which, right now, are not very apparent to the non-touch user).
As much of a boon Microsoft’s design choices have been to our business this past year, our first concern has to be for the health of the overall ecosystem. Start8 and ModernMix are products we’ve created to make Windows 8 more usable for our customers. But they are features that should have been part of the OS from day 1. They should never had to be made. Microsoft should realize that the immense popularity of these programs indicates that people want these features and should have made them part of Windows 8.1.