In simplest terms, people either love Windows 8's new Start screen that lacks the Start button, or they outright hate it and think Windows 8 is ruined because of this change. There's very little middle ground. It also appears that consumers haven't taken well to the changes either. It's no surprise then that when IDC recently tried to blame poor PC sales on Windows 8 UI changes, Microsoft is now poised to bring back the Start button with the next version of Windows. Unfortunately, it's also no surprise that Microsoft's purported solution looks like it is both 'too little, too late' and not very likely to make anyone happy.
Cue the Hate Mail
No matter what I say I'm sure that I'll be called a moron by plenty of readers. On one hand if I say anything nice about the Start screen, then I'll surely be called a fool or shill by folks who think that the new Start screen is the dumbest thing Microsoft has ever done. On the other hand, if I confess that I'm not a fan of the Windows 8 Start screen, then I'll surely be labeled as a dinosaur or as someone that prevents the Windows UI progress and growth that's needed to enable Windows to compete in more mobile markets.
However, the reality is that even though I can see benefits to the Start screen, I personally dislike it on my workstation. On a mobile device, I might think much differently about it. More importantly, however, is the fact that I don't think that Microsoft is evil incarnate because of the new Start screen. Nor do I think they're evil incarnate because of the lack of the Start button and Start menu. Instead, I think the folks on the Windows team are morons for so stubbornly and bull-headedly trying to force the notion that a multi-monitor desktop that's equipped with non-touch screens, a keyboard, and an obscenely precise mouse is somehow on par with a phone that's designed for thumbs or even a tablet that's designed for greasy fingers.
I Love Windows 8, But Windows 8 Freaks Me Out
As I covered in "Windows 8 for Luddites," I've not only made my peace with Windows 8, I hands-down consider it to be the best version of Windows I've ever used. It feels faster. It's been so much more stable. And I think it's visually stunning to work with. I'm a sucker, but I love the new squared corners and other, subtle, UI elements. They're a very refreshing set of changes that I, as someone who easily spends 8 to 10 hours a day in front of my Windows machine, have quickly grown to love.
By the same token, Microsoft's stubborn and asinine refusal to believe that a UI that's optimized for tablets or phones is the only UI that makes sense on a workstation (or a server -- don't get me started on Windows Server 2012) scares the crap out of me. In my mind, I see Microsoft's seemingly relentless pursuit of consumers potentially comes at my expense as a power user, which is why I think that ModernMix and Start8 are indispensable add-ons for Windows 8 for anyone who has higher aspirations with their Windows device than being merely able to watch video anywhere and everywhere.
However, that doesn't mean that I think Microsoft should just roll over, play dead, and not pursue consumer devices, tablets, or touch screens. They should. It's just that their attempt to force the tablet business onto business and power users has obviously flopped, which is why I argue that there's been so much backlash against the Start screen and the lack of a Start button. Stated differently, it's not like the lack of a Start button is truly that big of a deal. Instead, I think all of the complaints and problems stem more from the sense that users feel like they're being forced into using these paradigms -- without any kind of choice.
Only, that's the problem. Windows users do have choices. They can stay on Windows 7 and earlier versions, or jump ship to Mac, which is something that I've seen lots of non-technical and even technical friends do to the point where I'd almost argue that Windows 8 is helping drive Mac adoption.
A Lame Start Button Won't Please Anyone
Of course, no matter whether you agree with the notion that Windows 8 might be helping Apple or not, the one thing I think many of us can agree on is that Microsoft's recently purported solution to the 'Windows 8 problem' appears to be half-baked at best. To fans of 'the UI formerly known as Metro,' the addition of a Start button will be seen as a step back -- an admission by Microsoft that they failed to drive Windows forward. Yet, to gobs and gobs of typical consumers, a 'lame' Start button that merely throws up the Start screen doesn't address the vocal concerns of users who hate the Start screen.
As such, Microsoft's purported solution to this problem seems like a diplomatic (translation: lame) compromise designed to tell shareholders that the problem is solved when, in fact, I think this will just make both sides of the debate cranky. As such, I can't help but wonder what might happen if Microsoft tried something really brazen such as listening to users and allowing them to choose which option they liked best -- and even let them flip-flop on their decision. When given the chance, my guess is that many users might eventually migrate to the new Start screen. Until then, however, too many users seem to have taken to the lack of choice with the same kind of ire and hatred that they'd typically reserve for things such as phone companies or big companies that just take their business for granted and don't seem to care about user preferences, choices, or realize that they're selling a product and that there are other choices available -- including not buying.