Saturday, September 01, 2012

Start8 – Get the Start Button On Windows 8

Like many users of Windows 8, I really dislike what some call its bi-polar User Interface – the appalling (IMHO) start screen combined with the partially neutered desktop. And don’t get me started on how lame I think most of the Metro (SIC) applications are? We had a better UI than this in Windows 2! Why can’t I just overlap Metro (SIC) apps? Why can’t I have 3, 4 or more all up on the screen at once?  The same sentiment occurs on Server 2012, although on Server 2012, I’m well served with PowerShell!

Despite all the other goodness that is inside Windows 8, I find this UI poor. It really makes me dislike Windows 8, and (to use the language of all the Msft surveys I seem to get!), it does not make me feel better about Microsoft. Now, I am sure that a) many people love this new UI and b) it will be great on a tablet or phone. But for me, this dual-purpose UI is just plain a waste of space on corporate desktop PCs that, by and large,  continue to be used by knowledge workers using desktop applications – even Office vNext is not a Metro app (well not yet anyway). 

I have two great big 24-inch TFT panels that are not touch sensitive. Initially, using both Windows 8 betas and Server 2012 betas, I found myself constantly flipping back and forth between the desktop and the start screen. This was slow and very painful – and made me put Windows 7 back onto one of my desktop machines.  From the press coverage of Windows 8, I know I’m not alone! Although public opinion is not totally on my side, it’s pretty heavily weighed that way! All in all, Microsoft could have, and should have, done better.

Imagine my delight and excitement when I came across Start8, a new application from StarDock. Simply put: this application puts the start button back into Windows 8. It also changes the startup process so that instead of dropping you onto the Metro (SIC) Start screen at boot time, you are put straight into the Desktop. And there’s even a ‘start/run’ box on the Start menu! This is what, IMHO, Windows 8 really should have looked like: It lets me use Metro and Metro apps when that is appropriate (maybe if I get a Surface), but not have the start screen in my face quite so much. And on desktops and laptops, I get the best out of Windows 8 using a familiar and easier to use UI! I have converted my laptop to Windows 8 and with Stat8, I am enjoying the new OS.

Here’s what it looks like in one of my Windows 8 VMs.



Notice the nice shiny start button just where it used to be?  Well – when you click it, you see:




And as a really cool added feature, if you right click that button, you get to shut down the system – which looks like this:


Now, with the start screen (and the metro apps that come with it) are not so in my face, all that awful stuff I hated about Win8 is now largely a memory. On my main Win8 box (my laptop!), I’ve installed my favorite browser and music player, and now spend almost all my time on the desktop using desktop applications. And being productive!

For me, this has transformed my view of Windows 8. Instead of fighting the UI every time I try to use it, I now can be productive, and enjoy all the truly great features of Windows 8. With Start8. I now really enjoy using Windows 8. I have even recommended it to some of my friends working at a large software giant who agree with my views on the UI (even if they probably can’t be seen being productive and using it).

Right now, whilst it’s in beta, Start8 is free. But I like it sufficiently, I’m happy to buy it when it is finally released. This product makes Win8 usable for me and as long as Microsoft feel they know better about what my PC should look like, it’s going to stay on my Windows 8 and Server 2012 desktops.

My overriding question is: if an ISV like Stardock could do this and make it look so good, why couldn’t Microsoft?


Jeff Ammons said...

My Windows 8 experience has been very similar.

I'm not installing a start button replacement, however, because I'm finding that just pinning my most frequently used apps and using the "WinKey" + X shortcut covers much of that ground.

Scott Hanselman has a series of really good blog posts with tips. That's where I learned of the WinKey + X shortcut.

I have tried very, very hard to like the start screen and apps that aren't called Metro, but so far I find them kind of annoying.

One thing I see that I didn't expect is frequent crashes of those apps. Not all of them, but more than I would have guessed.

I now have my notebook triple booting with Win 7, Win 8, and Ubuntu. I find myself spending more and more time in Ubuntu...

Derek said...

I find that I don't miss the start button at all. I didn't really use it before. I don't use the start screen much but think its clever. Basically it's a start screen to pin RT or regular windows app, cool.

Peter Kriegel said...

Windows 8 is great! I feel with you I even dislike Metro Ui !
Wasting space on Screens!
Some People say on Desktops you have to see the Metro UI as a Start-Menu!
But this waste Time to switch to my Desk and the APP Window is the better Startmenu …..
I wished Microsoft had left the UI decision to the User and don't dictated it!

Even on Windows 7 I missed the classic Startmenu!


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