It’s official: the Start button is coming back to the Windows desktop … sorta. Microsoft just released a series of new details on Windows 8.1, the upcoming revamp of the operating system, confirming that it will replace the invisible hotspot in the left corner of the traditional desktop with a persistent Windows logo — although clicking will still return users to the Start screen, rather than opening up a traditional popup Start menu.
The Windows logo will also appear in the corner in other parts of the OS when users move their mice to the bottom left of the screen.
In addition, Windows executive Antoine Leblond says in a blog post that Windows 8.1 brings new “options to change what the corners do, and options to boot into alternate screens,” bypassing the Start screen. A Microsoft representative confirms that those options include the ability to boot to the traditional desktop.
Those are among the concessions being made by the company to help reduce the learning curve for traditional Windows users and address some of the biggest complaints about the new operating system following its release last fall. The company is trying to revive the declining market for Windows PCs while giving Windows 8 devices better traction in the market for tablets.
Microsoft says WIndows 8.1 will be released later this year as a free update, with a preview release scheduled for June 26 in conjunction with the company’s Build developer conference in San Francisco.
Here are more changes announced for Windows 8.1 this morning.
Snap View: Microsoft is adding more flexibility to view multiple “Modern UI” apps at continuously variable sizes chosen by the user, rather than the preset sizes in the current version of the operating system.
Leblond writes, ”You can resize apps to any size you want, share the screen between two apps, or have up to three apps on each screen if you have a multiple displays connected, you can have different Windows Store apps running on all the displays at the same time and the Start Screen can stay open on one monitor.”
Start screen: Microsoft is adding more variety to the tile sizes on the Start screen. (See the larger version in the weather tile below, and the smaller tiles to the left of the polar bears.) Other features include the ability to set the traditional desktop background as the Start screen background, “creating a greater sense of unity and familiarity.”
Lock screen: Windows 8.1 users will be able to use the lock screen for slide shows to turn their computers and tablets into digital picture frames. (In the olden days we called this a “screensaver.”) Other features include the ability to take a picture from the lock screen.
PC settings: This might seem like a small thing, but Microsoft is adding more settings to the “PC Settings” menu accessible from the Modern interface, reducing the need to go to the traditional Control Panel in the regular desktop. This includes display resolution, power options, viewing the product key, etc.
Apps: The company is making the apps list more flexible with the ability to filter by name, date, installed and other criteria. Microsoft is also upgrading the built-in apps, adding new editing features to the Photos app and redesigning the Music app.
Search: The search function “will provide global search results powered by Bing in a rich, simple-to-read, aggregated view of many content sources (the web, apps, files, SkyDrive, actions you can take) to provide the best “answer” for your query,” Leblond writes. Here’s a view of that. (Click for larger version.)
Will this be enough to make new users less wary of Windows 8? To be fair, Microsoft says it hasn’t revealed everything about Windows 8.1 yet.
Here is the full Microsoft post for more details on what was announced this morning.