Don't believe the myths about Windows 8.1 'Blue'

Astounding amounts of misinformation are circulating on Windows 'Blue,' even in publications that should know better. Here's what we know

In the past two days, three friends of mine -- who live on three different continents -- have breathlessly broken the news to me: "Microsoft is recalling Windows 8!" The first time I heard this piece of "news," I simply laughed and explained the situation. The second time I heard it, I was concerned. The third time I heard it, a friend in the States insisted that "all the news stations and people are talking about the recall of Windows 8." Microsoft has a spin problem here of Brobdingnagian proportions.

Those of you who have been following Windows "Blue" for the past several months will guffaw, but I think it would be a good idea to make it perfectly clear to all of your friends, users, and family members that Microsoft isn't recalling Windows 8 -- not even close. As much as I dislike Windows 8, it ain't broke, and Microsoft isn't going to recall it.

Rather, the update we're all expecting to see in August or September or October will be much like a Windows Service Pack. Realizing that past Windows Service Packs have run the gamut from massive rewrites (as in Windows XP SP2) to pedestrian patch roll-ups (Windows 7 SP1), the title "Service Pack" doesn't have a precise meaning, but it's a whole lot closer to the Windows 8.1 mark than "recall."

If the final name of the product is, indeed, Windows 8.1 (likely but not yet officially confirmed), consider the moniker a marketing move. After all, Windows hasn't had a "point" release since Windows 3.1 and 3.11. By using the .1 instead of SP1, Microsoft will no doubt try to emphasize that it's an evolutionary improvement, not a patch. How much of an improvement remains to be seen.

The state of the Start menu

The next rumor that I hear over and over again is that Windows 8.1 will bring back the Windows 7-style Start menu on the desktop. Bzzzzzt. Won't happen.

How prevalent is the "Blue" Start menu rumor? I've seen variations of it all over the Web. The New York Times Bits blog repeated it on Tuesday: "In recent weeks, tech news sites have been reporting that Windows Blue will bring back the start menu."

That Bits article pointed to two articles -- one by Mary Jo Foley on ZDnet, the other by Tom Warren on The Verge -- and neither of those articles even hints at the possibility of Windows 8.1 reviving the Start menu. They both say the Start button will return, but clicking on the new, improved Windows 8.1 Start button will simply dump you back on the Metro Start screen. That's precisely what happens in Windows 8 currently when you click in the lower-left corner of the desktop. Microsoft may put a button down there; the company may even make the button look like the Windows 7 Start button. But it won't work the same way that Windows 7 works, no way, no how.

Consider: The same team that brought the Ribbon to Office 2007 also brought the Metro Start screen to Windows 8. In spite of much wailing and gnashing of teeth, the Office team didn't bring back the old menus; in fact, Office 2010 only dug the Ribbon in deeper. Unless we see a palace revolt of unprecedented proportions, there is no way on heaven or earth that Microsoft will back down on its quest for tile supremacy. Unless you install a third-party replacement, the Start menu is dead. Get over it.

I also hear many people say, authoritatively, that Windows 8.1 will be a free upgrade for Windows 8 owners. That may in fact come to pass, but in spite of lots of talking and talking and talking and talking by Windows division CFO Tami Reller this week, we still don't have a commitment. It's highly likely that Microsoft will want to get Windows 8.1 out to the masses quickly, as a form of damage control. If that's the intent, then free is the right price point.

The boot-to-desktop debate

There's been plenty of speculation that Windows 8.1 will be able to boot directly to the old-fashioned Windows 7-style desktop. That, too, may happen, and the rumor's been bolstered by Registry settings with names that sound suspiciously like boot-to-desktop options in the latest leaked "Blue" builds. Again, we don't have any confirmation.

But some people have extrapolated that rumor into saying that Windows 8.1 may let you pretend the Start screen never happened. Bzzzzzt. Wrong again.

Even if you can boot straight to the desktop, the Metro Start screen looms in your future, if only because it's deucedly difficult to keep Windows 8 from occasionally dropping into it. Want to run a program that isn't pinned to your taskbar? The old Metro Start screen is your only hope. Forget to change a filename extension assignment? You'll probably get dumped into tileville. Install a new program? Metro Start screen's the only way to launch it for the first time. Sorry, but you'll never be able to completely avoid the Metro Start screen.

There are lots of things we do know about Windows 8.1, at least if the leaked builds are any indication. We're going to get a whole bunch of neat colors and swirls for the Metro Start screen. Oh boy. Some of the functions from the desktop's Control Panel will be replicated on the Metro side. Forgive me if I yawn.

By all accounts, Win 8.1 will handle small screens better, although the details of how the screens will work better are missing at this point. When Windows 8 shipped, a new system had to have a minimum resolution of 1,366 by 768 in order to receive the Windows 8-compatible logo. But Win8 has always installed and run at 1,024 by 768, albeit without Metro snap. The March 12 Windows Certification Newsletter reduced the minimum requirement to 1,024 by 768 by 32 bits, so small-screen systems can get Win8 certification right now. How Win 8.1 will change that requirement isn't clear -- but you can anticipate that Microsoft will make plenty of hay out of the change in Win 8.1 advertising, even if it's a Win 8 feature.

The next time you hear someone say that Microsoft is "recalling Windows 8," point them to a few facts. We have enough urban myths as it is.

This story, "Don't believe the myths about Windows 8.1 'Blue'," 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 developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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