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  (Source: Microsoft)
Is this the start button you're looking for?

Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) "Release Preview" builds of the upcoming free Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 upgrades aired today.  Windows 8.1 represents Microsoft's bid to revive slumping personal computer sales and make up for the misses of Windows 8, which led some to pan the ambitious user interface redesign.

The changes in the Release Preview are pretty much along the lines of what was previously shown in media previews:
  • "Start Button", which switches you to the "Modern UI" Home Page
  • Color theme customizations
  • Large and Tiny Live Tiles
  • Batch Live Tile operations (move, etc.)
  • Improved knowledge-enabled global, unified search
  • Side-by-side resizable app panes
  • Improved Windows Store
  • Improved SkyDrive support
  • Camera UI and photo slideshow on lock screen

The first change is the most notable -- and probably the most controversial.

After initially saying that customers no longer were using the Start Button and thus it was gone for good, Microsoft took note of the noisy outcry surrounding this topic and changed its mind, allowing the Start Button to make a comeback in Windows 8.1.  

...well, sort of.  Instead of the traditional Start Button, which pops up a menu of apps (on the same screen) in Desktop Mode, the new "Start Button" yanks you out of Desktop Mode and drops you onto your "Modern UI" (aka "Metro") Home Page.

It's clear that this won't be the Start Button many Windows traditionalists were hoping for.  But it does allow faster transitions to the Modern UI, for better or worse.

Windows 8.1 Preview

Microsoft has a full guide on the other new features here, and a Faq on Windows 8.1 Preview here.  Microsoft warns that some systems with 32-bit Intel Corp. (INTC) Atom processors will need to update their drivers before running Windows 8.1.

To get the update itself, go to the Preview page, which will install the necessary updates, then take you to a download link in Windows Store for the main installer.

Microsoft's annual BUILD Conference for developers is kicking off today and runs through June 28.

Sources: Microsoft [download link], [YouTube], [Blog]

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Start Button
By Dr3amCast on 6/26/2013 3:30:06 PM , Rating: 5
Is it just me...or does the return of the "start" button seem kind of redundant in the way they're using it. I have only just dabbled with Windows 8, like many of you I didn't like the interface. But when I hit the start button in Win7, it's typically because it's a small unobtrusive window (depending on amount of programs) that I navigate quickly to get the the program or folder I want.

This Win 8.1 Start button seems awful to me because it throws you full screen into the same full-screen metro style interface. Which, to me, makes it seem like its hardly there at all.

RE: Start Button
By EnzoFX on 6/26/2013 3:40:09 PM , Rating: 5
Out of those of us who complained about the lack of the start button, I don't know who would consider this fixed with the solution they've gone for. Pretty ridiculous. It wasn't the mere issue of a button being there... oh MS...

RE: Start Button
By aGreenAgent on 6/26/2013 4:01:47 PM , Rating: 2
The good thing is that in 8.1, you can hit Win + Q from the desktop and search for the program/setting/file you want without leaving the desktop. This is more or less the equivalent of the Win7 start menu, with the way I used the start menu.

RE: Start Button
By inighthawki on 6/26/2013 4:06:29 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed, I'm very excited to use the new search box. If I could find a simple way to remap the windows key to Win+Q I'd just do that :)

RE: Start Button
By Mitch101 on 6/26/2013 4:50:49 PM , Rating: 3
C:\Users\user_name\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\ WinX\Group2

Right Click on search and Add Pin to TaskBar. - Change the icon. ;)

RE: Start Button
By Mitch101 on 6/26/2013 5:03:22 PM , Rating: 2
If you make it the left most icon you can consider this a ghetto start menu.

RE: Start Button
By inighthawki on 6/26/2013 5:04:58 PM , Rating: 2
But I don't actually want a button, I just want to remap the windows key itself ;). I rarely if ever actually use the button or the win8 hot corner to access the start menu.

RE: Start Button
By Mitch101 on 6/26/2013 5:08:41 PM , Rating: 2
As a shortcut go to properties and change the shortcut key to F1 and enjoy. ;) Sorry cant get you much closer than that.

RE: Start Button
By inighthawki on 6/26/2013 5:15:04 PM , Rating: 2
Doable, but by the time I reteach myself to hit F1 instead of the windows key, I probably also wouldn't have any trouble hitting win+Q instead...

RE: Start Button
By Mitch101 on 6/26/2013 7:51:35 PM , Rating: 2
Hey I tried. Just wait it out till Microsoft backtracks in Windows 8.2 or 9? Its not like there is anything necessary on Windows 8 that Windows 7 cant do.

RE: Start Button
By inighthawki on 6/27/2013 2:52:20 AM , Rating: 2
And it's a clever solution. I actually don't mind the start screen, though. I just pretty much only use it to launch a program, which 99% of the time is via search. But I also like the new interface (the flyout menu) for search in 8.1. It would just be convenient if I could replace the behavior of the windows key with the function that I actually use it for :)

RE: Start Button
By Mitch101 on 6/27/2013 9:16:53 AM , Rating: 2
I like the way you think and that would be better. On the windows phone if you remove all the tiles the makes the menu of apps the default screen until you pin an application. For the heck of it I tried removing all the pinned apps to see if that would happen but it didn't got a blank start menu. I think the small icons they added to 8.1 will help but its nice to have the text name next to them. They should make the menu more skinnable or customizable would be a good feature.

RE: Start Button
By EnzoFX on 6/26/2013 4:19:32 PM , Rating: 2
Unified search is only one aspect of the. This really shouldn't have to be elaborated on in every Win article =P.

RE: Start Button
By spamreader1 on 6/26/2013 5:03:10 PM , Rating: 5
I prefer a hierarchy system over this anarchy system. The concept of random apps being randomly placed on tiles just still doesn't work, I used to make fun of people with their screen full of icons that they could never find what they wanted. I've also only met 2 users who knew about win+q out of the several dozen who have asked me how to get their new pc to windows7. of course win+q only really works if you know what app you want, what happens when you don't remember the name of the app?

Been using Win8 for a few months now. Still hate the interface changes. I've finally settled on several add-ons to make the ui more efficient (or copying the win7 ui to some degree). I'll have to try 8.1 to see if it's been improved, so far what I've read about it doesn't seem promising.

RE: Start Button
By aGreenAgent on 6/26/2013 7:34:51 PM , Rating: 2
It fixes a lot of annoyances, but only takes a semi-step towards the things you're talking about.

RE: Start Button
By jeepga on 6/26/2013 5:20:31 PM , Rating: 2
Even that isn't really necessary. Press the Windows key and it'll open the metro UI. You can then start typing to search for your application.

RE: Start Button
By kmmatney on 6/27/2013 12:12:21 AM , Rating: 2
I use the heck out of Win+E to pull up explorer, but on my 24" Monitor Win+Q is a bit of a pain as it puts the search box on the extreme right of the screen, and the results in the extreme left. It also puts the Apps on the screen in alphabetical order, so if you have a lot of programs like I do, you have to scroll sideways, so that portion of the window is useless. The sudden jump to full-screen really doesn't do it for me either, as I usually have a few windows open at the same time, like an Excel spreadsheet, a Database, or Visual Studio. Maybe this works well with a small screen, or casual use, but I'll stick to searching with ClassicShell to find my app.

RE: Start Button
By thurston2 on 6/28/2013 4:03:37 PM , Rating: 2
My keyboard doesn't have a Windows key.

RE: Start Button
By lexluthermiester on 6/30/2013 1:01:45 AM , Rating: 2
Exactly! The entire GUI is cumbersome, ugly and annoying. MS, WTH is wrong with you? This is the worst selling OS you've ever released and yet you still don't get it? We DON'T like it! Full stop! Go back to Windows 7 and try again. This time, try to keep things from looking like a throwback to Win 3.1.

Seriously MS, get a damn clue! We're NOT going to pay money to DOWNGRADE our computing experience. Heck, you people gave me a copy. It's on a shelf, unused. And that is where it is going to stay, collecting dust with the Vista box...

RE: Start Button
By jeepga on 6/26/2013 5:24:06 PM , Rating: 3
because it's a small unobtrusive window (depending on amount of programs) that I navigate quickly to get the the program or folder I want.

Small and unobtrusive is an opinion. I find it the opposite. That's especially true if you have more than a trivial number of applications installed.

I find the metro UI a little jarring, but it's laid out better and I don't miss navigating through different program folders. I can have the programs I use most frequently right there ready to run. And I can use All Apps if I need to get to the ones I use infrequently. For me it's a big time saver.

RE: Start Button
By Motoman on 6/26/2013 5:31:20 PM , Rating: 5
Yeah, this is a useless update, and isn't going to fool anybody.

People will continue to stay away from Win8 in droves. And Stardock will continue to sell lots of copies of Start8.

RE: Start Button
By max_payne on 6/26/2013 6:33:52 PM , Rating: 2
That's interesting. Now that MS has put back a button, how do the other third parties are going to yank it and put their own ? I suspect that MS bolted it in with tough security to make sure it stays there. MS INSIST that you go to modern UI for your applications.

RE: Start Button
By DigitalFreak on 6/26/2013 6:52:18 PM , Rating: 2
Nope. Start8 has an update coming out today for 8.1

RE: Start Button
By tamalero on 6/26/2013 9:51:14 PM , Rating: 2
hope classic-shell too.
seems Microsoft wants the modern ui BS almost as bad as the Xbox drm.
and they wonder why they are hemorrhaging money.

RE: Start Button
By inighthawki on 6/26/2013 10:08:39 PM , Rating: 2
Last I checked they were doing fine. Stock price was recently (and is still pretty close to) the highest it's been in 5+ years.

RE: Start Button
By BRB29 on 6/27/2013 11:11:47 AM , Rating: 3
and they wonder why they are hemorrhaging money.

I think they're gaining money.

MS is a monopoly. Putting out a bad product doesn't hurt the bottom line all that much when you can force people to pay for it.

RE: Start Button
By Motoman on 6/27/2013 12:33:32 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, that whole "forcing people to pay for it" thing doesn't seem like it's worked out too well, granted that Gartner, Forrester, and all the major OEMs are blaming Win8 for the massive drop in PC sales.

People *don't* have to buy Win8. And lots of them aren't, and in fact the only reason that MS is changing anything at all is because of that fact.

RE: Start Button
By BRB29 on 6/28/2013 8:42:45 AM , Rating: 2
Almost every single PC that sold have win8 whether people like it or not. Yes sales have been down but win8 still makes money along with their other cash cow called "office".

Historically, every bad OS sold and made profit. They just didn't sell as much. But that gives MS the opportunity to release a "newer and better" OS quickly after instead of the 5-7 year cycle. Overall, people will need to replace their PC and MS will make their money. We considered win8 an utter failure but MS will still make billions in the end.

RE: Start Button
By Motoman on 6/28/2013 1:55:31 PM , Rating: 3
It doesn't matter how you try to frame it now - the irrefutable fact of the matter is that MS (and all the OEMs) would have made a lot MORE over the lifespan on Win8 so far it it either didn't have the Metro UI, or if it also included the option to use the standard Start menu/desktop.

You can declare Win8 a "success" if you want. But there's no doubt they cost themselves, and the whole industry, enormous amounts of money in lost sales.

"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone

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