SweetLabs, a startup funded by big names such as Intel Capital and Google Ventures, is aiming to make Microsoft’s Windows 8 more familiar to longtime Windows users — debuting an update to its Pokki app platform that puts its own version of the Start button and menu on the traditional Windows desktop.

The update, announced today, comes a little more than a week before before Microsoft launches the new operating system, representing the most significant change to Windows in decades. One of the biggest complaints among people testing Windows 8 has been the removal of the traditional Start button and menu — part of a broader overhaul designed to make Windows more amenable to touch screens and tablets.

Pokki is an app store that works on Windows versions dating back to Windows XP, providing a distribution channel for desktop apps based on common web technologies. The new version of Pokki comes with an updated menu on the desktop that replicates many of the functions of the former Start menu on Windows 8. It’s accessed via an acorn icon, providing quick links to settings, programs, the control panel and, yes, a shut-down button.

Executives with SweetLabs, a San Diego-based company with an engineering office in Seattle, say they’re Windows fans, and understand Microsoft’s desire to overhaul the Windows interface, but they see an opportunity to fill a gap by putting the Start button and menu back into the operating system.

“We’re a weird startup. We love Windows,” says Chester Ng, the company’s co-founder and chief marketing officer. “I’m one of the only startup founders that walks into meetings with a Windows laptop. … That said, we’re really trying to make Windows better for mainstream PC users.”

“We’re hopeful that Microsoft continues to innovate on Windows and continues to push the envelope,” Ng adds. However, he says, “We feel like some users might need a bridge, frankly.”

In conjunction with the release, SweetLabs produced a video (below) with LockerGnome’s Chris Pirillo in which everyday users reacted to the new interface on a traditional computer, as a follow-up to the infamous video in which Pirillo’s dad couldn’t figure out the new interface.

Their approach differed somewhat from our “Geek on the Street” feature last week, in which GeekWire’s Taylor Soper showed iPad fans Windows 8 on a tablet, to mostly positive reactions.

The differences show that one of Microsoft’s biggest challenges will be helping Windows users with keyboards and mice get comfortable with the new interface. The Windows 8 “out of box” experience will include an on-screen guide to help new users learn the new features and commands.

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  • Weird video

    One of the apps is “Apple Software Update”

  • Ryan Parrish

    This is the first time these people ever used it, of course they’re not going to be familiar with it. They were not given a tutorial, a guide, or anything, which every Windows 8 device will come with. Do you think the first time most people used Windows 95 was any different?

  • Guest

    Congrats to Pokki! I remember the opposition to the Start Menu when W95 came out; some men even ran Program Manager, convinced it was better! Pokki is smart to cash in on the fears and misgivings that so many have.

  • SilverSee

    I have tried several Start menu replacements, and for desktop users who desire something a lot cleaner and less intrusive, I suggest Start8 by Stardock. It’s elegant and is not burdened by being a marketplace for shovelware.
    In the end, I uninstalled them all as I got used to Windows 8, which already feels natural to me.

  • Guest

    Ouch on his comment about startups and Windows. There’s a much bigger problem for MS than the missing start orb.

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