Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Windows 8.1: where is the Start button?

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In the year since the release of Windows 8, one question has been asked repeatedly of Microsoft: will the update for this version include a Start button?

On Friday (October 18), that question was answered. And much as Microsoft may try to spin it, the answer is a resounding no.

Windows 8.1 was rumoured to be bringing back that button, something that has been part and parcel of the interface for a long time - even if it is illogical. After all, asking someone to click on the start button to shut down the computer is not exactly logical - it's something like asking someone to press on the accelerator to get a vehicle to stop.

But over the years that Start button has come to be a distinguishing feature of Windows. Other operating systems have taken a hint and designed similar menu systems starting at the left-hand bottom corner of the screen. It is a familiar, comforting sight.

In response to all the noise about the lack of a start button in Windows 8, all that Microsoft has done is provided a screen which has shortcuts all applications. This can be configured to appear when on switches to the desktop option on Windows 8.1. The other interface option is the live tiles as in Windows 8.

But the fact is this screen with shortcuts was also present in Windows 8 - only one accessed it from one of the menu items that appeared when the mouse pointer was moved to the right-hand bottom of the screen.

In other words, this is just a cosmetic change. But then one should not be surprised - this, after all, is Windows.

There is little about Windows 8.1 that stands out. But there is nothing that makes it worse than Windows  either. There is a push towards making the user more dependent on external resources. This is in keeping with the trend towards mobile computing - keep all your data in the cloud and access it from any device you use.

Signing on with a Microsoft account is not the wisest thing to do, given that encryption keys appear likely to be stored in the cloud. This is an open invitation to the boys at the NSA to snoop on your data - but then perhaps it was designed this way to make it easier for them to keep terrorists at bay.

Had Steven Sinofsky, the man who was in charge of Windows 8, still been around, then it is likely that there would have been other changes for 8.1. A man who conceives of an operating system upgrade as massive as Windows 8 will surely have some idea of where it will go further down the line. But Sinofsky was forced out soon after the launch last year.

The 8.1 update is free. It's around 3.6 gig, and the kinks in the system should have been ironed out by now. All the fanboys must be out of the way now, so downloads should be faster. There is really no reason not to upgrade.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.