Hope lives! Windows 'Blue' may bring back Windows 7 features

Microsoft reconsiders its biggest Win8 gaffes -- and offers some promise for the Windows 'Blue' update

The fat lady hasn't yet sung. It's entirely possible that Microsoft will bring back the Start menu in Windows "Blue" 8.1 and allow customers to boot directly to the Desktop. While that doesn't bode well for Microsoft's Metro campaign, it may -- with a little effort -- go a long way toward taking Windows 8 out of the doghouse.

One week ago today, a rather obscure post on the My Digital Life forum first identified a new registry key value pair in Windows 8.1 Build 9364 -- the leaked build dated March 24. The key, twinui-CanSuppressStartScreen, certainly sounds interesting.

Russian-language site Microsoft Portal fueled the speculation over the weekend, by identifying a line of code in Build 9364's twinui.dll that references the same key. My Russian's rusty, but the site appears to say that the line of code "is responsible for disabling the (Metro) Start screen (on startup). This will immediately go to the desktop automatically when Windows starts."

On Tuesday, Tom Warren at The Verge quoted "sources familiar with Microsoft's plans" as saying Win8.1 will include an option to boot directly to the Desktop. "We're told that the option is disabled by default, allowing users to simply turn on the functionality should they want to avoid the Metro Start screen at initial boot or login."

That same day, ZDnet's Mary Jo Foley quoted "one of my sources" as saying boot-direct-to-desktop "is now looking like the plan and added that Microsoft is also considering bringing back the Start button as an option with Windows 'Blue.' It's not 100 percent sure that either/both of these options will be baked into the final Blue release. ... 'Until it ships, anything can change,' said my source, who requested anonymity."

Foley's revelation is mind-boggling on many levels. Under the Sinofsky regime, such leaks were unheard of. Just a year after Sinofsky's departure, Foley quotes a single source as saying Microsoft's making a major Windows design reversal. The fact that Foley ran the article with just a single source means (in my estimation) that she's talking with the very highest-level people inside Microsoft. What a breath of fresh air!

Matt Rosoff at CITEWorld drew some insightful conclusions about the move: "The risk for Microsoft is that if the company makes it easier for users to spend all their time in old-fashioned Desktop mode, that's exactly what they'll do. ... The new UI needs apps designed for touch ... but the only way developers will feel compelled to build those apps is if users actually spend time in the new interface."

That's precisely the dilemma facing Microsoft. It can build an OS that many people (and companies) actively avoid because of it schizophrenic tendencies. Or it can build an OS that improves on the old OS in a compelling way, adding the Metro side as a bit of lagniappe. Don't shove our noses in Metro, Microsoft. Dangle it like a carrot.

If Microsoft can ever get its Windows Phone apps to run on the Win8 Metro side, and vice versa, the apps will come. I won't hold my breath, but it could happen.

My one fervent request: Dear Microsoft, if you bring back the Start Menu and let me boot Win8.1 directly to the desktop, please, please reinstate the Aero Glass interface. It can't be that hard to resurrect: Glass was obliterated in the final weeks of the Windows 8 RTM rush.

It still exists on the Win8 desktop's taskbar. The hooks are still there. Just bring back the UI, so we can adjust it. I know that Glass was killed in an "off with their heads" moment when battery drain took high priority, but for some folks losing 15 minutes of battery capacity isn't that big a deal. You can even make the blah, boxy Metro Flatland look the default, if you must. Jensen, please give us back Glass!

This article, "Hope lives! Windows 'Blue' may bring back Windows 7 features," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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