Windows 8.1 "Blue" -- the next version of Windows, widely expected in August -- flew back in the news over the weekend with two important (if unofficial) developments. First, there's a new leaked version of Windows 8.1 Pro, Build 9374 that includes a few interesting, unanticipated, but hardly earth-shaking improvements. Second, those of us who are waiting with bated breath for signs of the Start menu's resurrection found a lump of coal in our stockings.
On the leaked build front, Build 9374 is now widely available at all of your favorite leaky sites. If you've already played with the leaked Build 9364 from last month, it isn't worth the effort to download and install this one. That said, there are a couple of new features that seem worthwhile -- if Microsoft irons out the (considerable) bugs and the features make the final cut.
The best concise review of new Build 9374 features comes in a five-minute video on the WinBeta.org site. Looking beyond the utterly trivial (Metro Start screen icons now dim when you hit Customize) and marginally useful (the Start charm, when activated, only takes up part of the screen), there's one worthwhile new feature. The new Kiosk mode -- called Lockdown and accessed from the Metro Users Settings window -- lets you set up the machine so it will boot into, and remain in, exactly one Metro app.
As for the lump of coal, I reported last week on rumors from very reliable sources who say that Windows 8.1 will bring back the Start button. Many of us hoped that Microsoft would, in fact, bring back the whole desktop Start menu, button and all. Not so, says Tom Warren on The Verge. Citing unnamed "sources familiar with Microsoft's plans," Warren says Windows 8.1 will include a Start button -- but "the button will act as a method to simply access the Start Screen, and will not include the traditional Start Menu." Yes, you read that correctly. If Warren's right, Microsoft is knocking itself out to put a Windows logo on the left edge of the taskbar. Click on the logo, and you get hurled into the Metro Start screen.
A more cynical person might ask how that's any different than the current, er, feature -- hover your mouse in the lower-left corner of the Win8 desktop and click, and you go to the Metro Start screen. Gee, that must've been some tough programming, Microsoft.
I'm starting to lose hope that we'll see a Start menu in Windows 8.1 -- and it really shouldn't surprise me. Consider that the entire Windows 8 top-level development team had been working together, more or less intact, for more than a decade. Even with Sinofsky gone, the core group is still there, still in charge. The group has its roots way back in Office 95, with Julie Larson-Green joining for Office XP. As soon as Office 2007 was done, the entire group moved to the Windows effort, where they miraculously turned Windows Vista into Windows 7.
One of the lessons the group learned back in the Office days is that they can make radical changes to a user interface and get away with it, over the screams of anguished customers. When Office 2007 shipped with the Ribbon, experienced Office users howled and howled. The team ignored them ... and Office 2007 turned into a gold mine, in spite of the whining.
I frequently think that UI switcheroo experience has molded much of what we've seen with Windows 8 and its bizarre UI. In Win8, that same team went out on a limb with a radically new interface. Entrenched Windows users screamed and hollered. Microsoft didn't listen -- didn't lift a finger to bring back the old interface.
When the team did that with Office 2007, they scored a big success -- one of the most successful products in Microsoft's history.
Windows 8, on the other hand, is an entirely different kettle of tiled fish.
This story, "Leaked Windows 8.1 Build 9374 disappoints Start button fans," 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.