In the past few weeks, screen captures emerged showing that the Start button, a fixture in Windows since 95 when it debuted in Windows 95, would be removed from Windows 8. Enthusiasts acted as if it were a betrayal, a final nail in the coffin of the desktop UI they just know is being herded out to pasture.
None of it is true. Well, the Start button is being removed from the Windows 8 desktop, though as I wrote about in tongue-in-cheek fashion in Windows 8 Secrets: Windows 8 Is NOT Dropping The Start Button, any Windows logoed device or PC will have a Windows key (on the keyboard) or Windows key button (on the device itself) that will accomplish the same thing. What I couldn't tell you at the time, sorry, was that this is only part of the story.
So here's the true story behind the missing Start button in Windows 8.
As you will discover in my article User Experience Fit and Finish Improvements, Microsoft has largely completed the Windows 8 user experience in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, adding full-featured keyboard, mouse, and trackpad interactions to the system that rival any of the touch-based stuff it first showed off last year. One of the goals of this nearly-complete user experience is that these input types will work consistently, and offer nearly identical capabilities. So there shouldn't be anything that's possible only with, say, the touch interface.
The other side of this coin, however, is that these different input types should work consistently and nearly identically in both of Windows 8's user experiences, the Metro-style Start screen the Explorer-based desktop.
Think about that for a second.
The Start button as we know it is a fixed, desktop interface only. And since there's no logical way to meld that Start button into the Start screen--which by design is a scrolling, multi-screen interface that launches full-screen apps that would hide such a UI--Microsoft needed to figure out a Start button replacement, one that would work consistently in both Metro and the desktop, and be respectful of the differences in each user experience.
So … wait for it… Microsoft is not so much removing the Start button as it is replacing it. Long live the Start button.
From any UI in Windows 8--the Start screen, a full screen Metro-style app, or the desktop--you can move the mouse down into the lower left corner of the screen, to an area that is largely the size of the Start button in Windows 7 and occupies the same place, and a Start tip will pop-up. This Start tip, which was also leaked in screenshots recently and widely misunderstood, if your visual cue that the Start button may have "disappeared" but that its functionality is still there. In fact, it's more powerful than ever.
In addition to working in all Windows 8 user experiences, this new Start experience, as Microsoft calls it, provides a way for mouse- and touch-based users to trigger Start functionality. Better still, power users will be excited to discover that they can right-click on this UI and unleash a whole new set of useful options. Go ahead, try it. I won't ruin the surprise.
And as was pointed out to me, those that simply cannot live without a visual Start button on the Windows 8 desktop will be able to easily add one via the innumerable third party utilities that will appear within days--perhaps hours--of the release of the Consumer Preview. All you need, as a developer is a very simple API called SendKeys that's been in Windows forever.
The truth is, I suspect, that most people won't care once they figure out that the new Start experience is available globally in such a consistent fashion. A lot of the current controversy, such as it is, is really just a psychological issue with persecution complex written all over it. The new approach simply makes more sense, sorry. And once you've used it, I think you'll agree.