On the Threshold of What..?

There are Windows Changes coming and some of them, my friends, are truly encouraging.

Change ahead isolated signWhen I write a column, I usually try to come up with some cool play on words or other “hook” to sorta grab a reader’s attention. With this particular column its really hard because the news I found is really very exciting; and there really isn’t a decent, cute way to put this without reducing the excitement.  So, I’m just gonna come out and say it:

It looks like the Start Menu – the real Windows 7 styled Start Menu – is intended to make a come back in Windows Threshold.  At least that’s what I see when I read the latest article by Paul Thurrott.

Paul and I go back a ways. We both worked for WUGNET for a while. Paul started WinInfo there, and I wrote most of their computing tips over a 15 year period.  So, honestly, when Paul says something, I tend to listen and listen VERY carefully. If there’s one thing I know, its that Paul knows Windows. So when I hear Paul say that the Start Menu is coming back, I tend to listen.

According to Paul and his cohort in Windows Weekly crime, Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft Threshold is all about bringing Windows to the threshold of unification between Phone, desktop and Xbox One.  This unification will include a series of updates that will go a LONG way to satisfying many of Microsoft’s very, very unhappy enterprise and consumer users.

In the next version of Windows, be it Threshold, Windows 8.2 or whatever they decide to call it, ModernUI apps will run in a window, if your PC supports Windows’ Desktop Mode. This is going work a lot like Stardock’s ModernMix, though its likely be somewhat different…at least one would hope.

The Start Menu is also going to return. The Start Button clearly wasn’t enough for everyone, and the “next logical step”  is to bring the Start Menu back as an available option.  According to Paul, its possible that this option will only going to appear in product versions that support Desktop mode.  There’s more that will likely be in this update, but at this time, this is all that’s confirmable.

Paul calls this a good step. I have to agree with him. Part of me is wondering if I’m not the only one wondering if this isn’t in response to Surface RT/Surface 2’s poor sales numbers and if Microsoft is clearly starting to get it – after more than 30 years, Windows is a productivity tool more than an entertainment tool.

If this is the case, I’d call that a good thing too.  I like Surface Pro and Surface 2 Pro.  They’re both good ultrabooks. However, with full blown Windows on them, its hard for me to use something like that as an entertainment device. Its not impossible, but YOU have to change gears with it. I don’t know about you, but I am not always very successful with that. I often find that I gravitate towards other devices other than my work PC for entertainment. Its easier for me to mentally keep them separate than to use one device for both purposes.

Over the years, I’ve found that my IT departments feel the same way. When you use a work PC for personal use, at least at my current job, you can be terminated.  The two do NOT mix at all, and BYOD is not something they encourage or support.  While other IT shops may not have the same policy, filling up a hard drive with MP3’s or videos is often discouraged.  Unless you work for a company that fully supports BYOD or are self employed and have to supply your own PC equipment, I’m not certain that kind of concern applies to you.  My guess is that most people don’t bump into the problem. Its likely not an issue for most.

What do you think about the Windows developments? Why not join us in the discussion below and tell us what you think.

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Microsoft Windows 8.1 Delta Review

Introduction

Windows PC’s are some of the most affordable computers available today. Portable or not, they cost hundreds of dollars where Macs can cost thousands. If you want an affordable or budget PC, portable or not, its likely going to be a Windows machine. Unless there’s a Windows 7 offer, you can expect to have the latest version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system on it.

Windows 8.1 has a few interesting changes in it. I’ve covered the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 for Soft32. There wasn’t a huge delta – or change – between the Consumer Preview and the version that hit the streets. There are some interesting changes between Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. Let’s check them out and see if Windows 8.1 is the version of Windows 8.x that we’ve been hoping for.

New Features

Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but please remember that Windows 8.1 is still very much Windows 8. There are some very, very good improvements to legacy usability that should make many users of non-touch enabled PC’s very happy; but Microsoft didn’t go quite as far as it could have – or should have – for a great many users. Windows 8.1 still has ModernUI throughout most of it.

However, that doesn’t mean that the improvements that were made weren’t valuable. They are. Windows 8.1 is a much better Windows 8 than Windows 8 was. Let’s take a look at what was done, and see how it all stacks up. Depending on the type of PC you have, you may find them more relevant than others.

Start Button – but no start Menu

The masses have not been happy with the lack of a Start Button and Start Menu in Windows 8. The Start Menu has been around since the early days of Windows XP, and as many will tell you, was optimized in Windows 7. Microsoft has heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth and has resolved the issue…sorta.

Win81-01 Start Button

The Start Button is back, but the Windows 8 Start Screen is still here. There’s no Start Menu any longer. So unless you replace the Live Tiles with the All Programs menu, you’re stuck with them. The functionality here is still very good, and Microsoft has included the new Search Everywhere option (which is the real value of the Start Menu) which includes searching SkyDrive as well as online, for the terms you’re looking for.

Those of us used to using Windows in the Enterprise will also notice that the consumer version of Windows 8.1 also includes a log off/Sign Out option, accessible via a right click or by pressing Win-X, allowing users to take the PC back to an on, but not logged on status. This makes sharing PCs at home a bit easier as you truly DON’T have to share a single account with a spouse or siblings. All the instances of each app can truly be customized for any user of any account and you don’t have to share unless you want to.

This particular point is still a huge issue for many people. They really don’t like the Live Tile-based Start Screen on non-touch enabled and/or legacy PC’s. For those that just can’t live with the Start Screen, you can always install Start8.

Boot to Desktop

One of the biggest problems with Windows 8 is that it took you right to the Start Screen every time the PC finished the startup process. As part of the Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft introduced a Boot to Desktop option for users who simply weren’t going to use ModernUI or who preferred to see the standard Windows Desktop. It *IS* where most users will do most of their work.

Win81-03 Boot Desktop

Interestingly enough, the options for this are connected to the Task Bar and not to your desktop (Personalization) or Display options. To get to these, right click your Task Bar, click Properties and then choose the Navigation tab.

Here, you’ll see a great many Windows 8.1 options, including the option to replace the Start Screen with the All Apps view. Take note of this tab and this dialog box. You’re likely going to become very familiar with the options here as you try to figure out the best set of “navigation options” for you.

This is one of the biggest advantages of Windows 8.1 over Windows 8. If your PC doesn’t have a touch interface and you aren’t going to be using it as a lean-back device (a tablet-like, content consumption device) then you may want to give serious consideration to using Boot to Desktop. Using this, along with options like the All Apps View go a long way to hiding ModernUI elements from users who really won’t make use of them.

IE11 Updates

Windows 8.1 comes with IE11, so you won’t need to update the browser via Windows update or any other manual process. The ModernUI version of the Microsoft’s web browser includes Reading View, which allows you to view and read content off line. It has settings that allow you to customize its look and feel with different fonts and colors choices. You can also turn Tracking Protection on and off and prevent sites from tracking you or from installing 3rd party cookies.

Win81-04 IE11

Next page

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If Microsoft is Going to Listen, then it Needs to Listen

I need what I need, and not a token bone thrown at me. I’m just sayin’…

The interwebs have been agog lately with a number of different rumors and “confirmations” that Microsoft has heard the wailing and cries of its people. It’s said that the release of Windows 8.1 – or Windows Blue as its been code named – will bring back the Start button to the Windows 8 interface.  Unfortunately, a new undercurrent has been heard recently as well: The Start Button is going to do what it did in the Windows 8 Developer Preview – Bring up the Windows 8 Start Screen and not a Windows 7 Styled Start Menu.

My friend Preston Gralla sites a story from The Verge in his analysis.  He says that it its “true, it would be a [major] misstep for Microsoft.”

I agree, but it wouldn’t be the first time that MS thought it knew better than its customers.

startbuttonGralla says that, “Microsoft [appears] to have a death wish” when it comes to Windows 8. Users have been asking for a return of the Windows 7 Start Menu. No one is asking for a Start Button that gets users to the Windows 8 Start Screen. Users that want a quick way to get to the Start Screen can swipe in from the right edge of the screen, hit the Windows Key on a Windows compatible keyboard or hover the mouse over the lower left corner until a thumbnail of the Start Screen appears and then click on it.  Putting the Start Button back just to get the user to the Start Screen is silly.  We don’t want the Start screen.

We want the Windows 7 Start Menu.

The Windows 7 Start menu was simple. It was easy to use.  More importantly, its search results were much more accurate than its Windows 8 counterpart; at least that’s the current perception from most users.  Windows 8 Start Screen search results display data differently than displayed on the Windows 7 Start Menu; and the results sort and display is also confusing users.

Unfortunately, especially on a non-touch enabled PC, the Start Screen isn’t what users want. Windows 8.1 will likely give users the ability to boot directly to their Desktop instead of the Start Screen, which is something that users DO want.  However, giving users a Start Button that doesn’t do what users want it to do is confusing and, well, rude. If Microsoft is going to listen to its Windows 8 critics and change the way the OS works, then it needs to listen.

If The Verge’s report is accurate, Microsoft’s solution seems half-backed and empty.  Windows XP and its Start menu have been around since 2000. It’s over 13 years old. Changing that type of use behavior in the enterprise is NOT reasonable; and I honestly think Microsoft is going to miss the boat again if it doesn’t open both ears and listen to what users want from it.

 

 

 

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Bring back the “Start” menu in Windows 8 with Start8

start8-ico
Put the Start button and Windows 7 styled Start Menu back on your Windows 8 computer with this must have utility.

In the corporate world, we say that someone moved our cheese. Microsoft changed the way that Windows 8’s Start Menu works, and it’s really not sitting well with a number of people who don’t have a touch enabled PC. If this is you, or if you really don’t like the new interface, then Start8 is definitely for you. It’s a Windows 8 Start Menu utility, and its pretty awesome.

Start8, part of Stardock’s Object Desktop, does two things – it puts a Start Button on the Windows task bar and creates a Windows 7 styled Start Menu on your Windows 8 powered PC. You still get access to the Windows 8 Menu with all of its Live Tiles, but at least while in Desktop Mode, where many will spend their time, you’ll have a familiar interface to work with.

Start8-00

The nice thing about Start8 is that it’s completely configurable. You get most, if not all of the same Start Menu options you’re used to, and the utility works with both legacy and Modern UI (Metro-styled) applications. In other words, you can search for and pin Windows 8-styled apps to Start8’s Start Menu and use them like any other application.

Stardock has been creating some really awesome Windows software for the past 15 years or so. Start8 is part of its Object Desktop suite of Windows enhancements and is specifically for Windows 8. The only bad thing about Object Desktop, is that much of its components don’t work on Windows 8 as of this writing. Those that do, seem really awesome and are highly recommended.

Start8 does a great job of reproducing the Windows 7 desktop UI without adding any real overhead. I’m running it on a Dell Latitude 10 ST2 Windows 8 Pro tablet, and it doesn’t tax or burden the device in any way. This is a must have application for your Windows 8 PC.

Download Start8

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