The battle for user choice in Windows 8.1

Start menu 'solutions' have divided the Microsoft faithful in a battle that could be avoided if users are given a simple choice

It may not surprise you to learn that last week's Microsoft MVP Summit in Bellevue and Redmond, Wash., included a number of discussions on the look and feel of Windows 8.1. It may not even surprise you to learn that these discussions among Microsoft MVPs became very heated. After all, Windows 8 represents a seismic shift, and we Microsoft MVPs can be very opinionated when it comes to our OS of choice.

What may surprise you is that I found myself at the center of that storm. After years of advocating the new over the archaic in Windows, I argued passionately in favor of past Windows functionality no longer meaningfully available in this latest incarnation.

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When I started writing this column five years ago, InfoWorld was flying the "Save XP!" banner high, while I took the opposing position, favoring the move to Windows Vista. In that trial by fire, I received many hateful comments from those clamoring for what I argued was an archaic OS. Now I find myself doing a 180, battling over things like the Start menu rather than embracing the new and improved Windows as it has been configured for me by Microsoft. It's an odd twist, but one still rooted in logic I believe.

Before you label me a diehard who can't get past the fundamental changes of Windows 8, let me state that my work system runs Windows 8.1. My smoking-hot Alienware laptop runs Windows 8.1. My Surface 2 runs Windows 8.1. My wife's home infinity touchscreen Acer runs Windows 8.1. I even upgraded my mother's Surface 1, which she got last week when I returned home with the Surface 2, to run Windows 8.1. Make no mistake: I have fully embraced the new OS and am not some dinosaur hugging Windows XP as I sink into a tar pit.

I am simply a Microsoft MVP and Windows user advocate looking to dispel some of the arguments I had and overheard last week about changes to the Windows 8.1 interface that I find problematic.

Pro Win8.1 point No. 1: Microsoft gave us back the Start button in Windows 8.1.

Counterpoint: No, it didn't. That little shortcut tile in the corner is not what people wanted. It's insulting. It's like Microsoft said, "OK, you want a little Windows flag in the corner? We can do that for you." People want to be able to access their applications through the organized folder structure they were used to (aka the Start menu), not have a "new and exciting" way to take them back to the Start screen.

Pro Win8.1 point No. 2: Well, you can right-click and access some options -- like Shutdown options, Control Panel, and so forth.

Counterpoint: That's true. Now tell me how I do that on my Surface tablet with the use of a touchpad's right-click button or a USB mouse with a right-click button? Another question: How do I turn off that Start tile, shortcut thingy?

Pro Win8.1 point No. 3: Wait, you want it off? First you complain that you don't have a Start button, then Microsoft gives you one and you want it off?

Counterpoint: Therein lies the rub. You just don't get it. I don't want anything -- except for users to have choices with regard to how they work. A classic desktop option. Or the ability to leave the Start tile/shortcut off altogether. I'm all about choices.

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