The Start button is back.
A feature of Microsoft operating systems since Windows 95, the Start button allowed quick access to applications and system features. Windows 8, in a marked departure, traded it for a tablet-like, touchscreen-optimized system for navigating apps. That, understandably, confused and frustrated Windows users, many of whom found Windows 8 befuddling rather than innovative.
Microsoft Shows A Less-Than-Deft Touch
Microsoft has had a consistent party line on these complaints, which is to urge people to try Windows 8 on new touchscreen PCs and tablets.
One of Microsoft's strengths has alway been its embrace of backwards compatibility—the ongoing guarantee that newer PCs will run older software. The Surface RT tablet, which cannot run older Windows software, and the new Xbox One, which likewise will not play old games, suggest that Microsoft has become more willing to abandon the old, as it did with the Start button.
Here's the mistake Microsoft made: While it's trivially easy to update software, and new hardware can be sold, it's far harder to rewire the wetware in our brains. And hundreds of millions of Windows users over the past two decades have been trained to look for a Start button.
And a basic interface feature like that is not analogous to a game or even a piece of software. Video gamers rapidly grow bored of old games and seek out new ones. But the way we use PCs becomes a matter of routine. And there's nothing more annoying than breaking people's routines.
No wonder PC sales are falling.
Screenshot of Windows 8.1 via Paul Thurrott's Windows Supersite.