Windows 8 hits the streets in just a few days. It represents one of the biggest overhauls of this venerable OS user interface since Windows 95 came into our lives seventeen years ago. Back then Microsoft urged users to “Start Me Up” with the new Start menu.
Now two decades later the company is ready to ditch that old-fashioned thing and replace it with the Metro/Modern Start screen. As with any change, there are people both for and vehemently against it.
For those who fall into the latter camp, there are already fixes for this problem. Not just from third-party developers, but also from Windows hardware partners.
Samsung, Lenovo offer Start Menu clones for their PCs
When Samsung started showing off their Win8 hybrid PCs earlier this summer — first called Series 5 and Series 7 Slate PC, now called ATIV SmartPC and Smart PC Pro — they were particularly proud of their S Launcher, which basically duplicates a Windows 7 Start menu and shows up in the Desktop environment.
No big surprise here, if you think about it. Windows 8 is taking some cues from mobile operating systems, and Samsung is an expert at messing with the interface on Android. Why not do the same on Windows in the name of a better user experience?
Apparently, Microsoft didn’t think this was such a good idea. ZDNet reported that the S Launcher would not ship with the final launch products. Samsung did not say whether there was pressure from above to do this, but the talk of a “pure Microsoft experience” does make me quirk an eyebrow. Good news is that the S Launcher isn’t dead. The company will make it available to Win8 users who want it as a download.
As much as Microsoft wants to leave the Start menu behind, Samsung isn’t the only company to have come up with a replacement for it. At the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga event last week, a spokesperson confirmed that the laptop/tablet hybrid would include a Start menu replacement.
This has intriguing implications for how manufacturers perceive Microsoft’s decisions in this matter. One of the reasons smartphone makers skin Android is to add functionality or usability they feel the OS doesn’t have or doesn’t do well. Adding a Start menu where there is none is a statement. Obviously Lenovo and Samsung feel that users still want or even need it, despite what Microsoft thinks.
Third party Start Menu clones
Add to this a handful of third-party software makers who’ve tackled the missing Start button problem with various approaches. There are free solutions — StartMenu8, Pokki for Windows 8, Classic Shell — but so far the best looking is Start8 from StarDock.
This $4.99 Start menu replacement offers lots of configuration options, including one that melds Windows 8 aesthetics and sensibility with the Windows 7 function that people are most familiar with (and like).
There are likely to be more Start menu programs that pop up after launch, especially if there’s a rise in people Googling “How do I find the Start menu in Windows 8?” in November.
It will be interesting to see if people who buy Lenovo Win8 products are less frustrated by the new UI than people who buy some other brand and have to then search out third-party alternatives.
Or is Microsoft right in thinking that by presenting people with an all-new interface and getting rid of old, “unnecessary” elements, users will just cave in and forget how much they loved their Start menus? Time and download numbers will tell.
If you plan on buying a Windows 8 computer or upgrading your existing one, will you add an unauthorized Start button?