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Windows 8, the next version of Microsoft’s PC operating system, will be a radical change for people who pick it up for the first time, with a primary screen based on tiles similar to the Windows Phone interface — relegating the old-fashioned yet familiar Windows desktop to a secondary status.

Go ahead and laugh, but given the degree of change, it has actually been comforting to see the Windows flag, representing the Start button, in the lower left corner when using the Windows 8 Developer Preview. First introduced with Windows 95, the Start button has gone through several changes, but it’s a nice connection to the past.

But it looks like that may be going away, as well.

A report by Tom Warren in The Verge over the weekend, citing a leaked Windows 8 build, says the upcoming Windows 8 Consumer Preview nixes the Start button entirely. He explains …

“We have confirmed with sources close to Microsoft’s Windows 8 development that a hot corner has replaced the Start button orb. A thumbnail-like user interface will appear in Metro or desktop mode, providing a consistent way to access the Windows desktop and Start Screen in Windows 8 regardless of touch or mouse input. The new interface is activated on hover from the lower-left corner of Windows 8 and includes a thumbnail preview of where you will navigate to after clicking on the new visual element.”

The Start Screen he’s referring to is the tile-based default screen that I mentioned earlier, pictured below. In the Developer Preview, the Start button and menu appear in the lower left of this screen when hovering over that area with a mouse. A square Start button is fixed to the lower left of the screen in the traditional desktop view in Windows 8 (pictured above).

It’s important to note that the report of the Start button’s demise hasn’t been confirmed yet by Microsoft, and it’s tough to judge something until you actually get to use it — but this is a surprise, to say the least.

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview, a.k.a. the first Windows 8 beta, is due out later this month, and a final version of the new operating system is widely expected later this year. Microsoft is banking on Windows 8 to give Windows PC tablets new traction against the iPad and Android devices, but the new interface will also be the standard for traditional PCs with keyboards and mice.

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