The Start button that isn't and other minor Desktop changes
Unless you live in a Faraday cage, you already know that Windows 8.1 will have a Start button. If you've read past the first sentence in the gushing announcements of that "victory" for users, you also know that the Start button isn't anything at all like the Start button in Windows 7 (or XP, for that matter).
Right now, in Windows 8, if you click in the lower-left corner of the Desktop, you're sent to the Metro Start screen. In Windows 8.1, if you click in the lower-left corner of the Desktop, you get sent to the Metro Start screen. The only difference is that Win8.1 will have a visible Start button, not the invisible version used in Windows 8. I guess somebody at Microsoft figured the presence of a Start button would mollify the 1.4 billion people who click on Start and expect to see a Start menu. The returned Start button is definitely is not the Start menu that people really miss.
Frankly, I think the new Start button will only make experienced Windows users angry -- very angry. It's certainly going to confuse the living daylights out of a lot of otherwise sane Windows users. In spite of what you may have read in some well-known publications, there simply is no Start menu in Win8.1. No way, no how -- all we get is a Start button, and it's a sham.
If you don't like to look at Metro's tiles, you can tell Win8.1 to show the All Apps list instead of going to the Metro Start screen. Because you can sort the All Apps list in order of most frequently used or alphabetically by group name, there's some chance of finding your app needle in the Metro Start haystack without clicking or swiping through mounds of live tiles.
One change in Windows 8.1 that may be a worthwhile improvement for some users is the ability to reserve a second screen for the Metro environment, essentially letting you have the Desktop and Metro running side by side, if you have an extra monitor hanging around. To be effective, you'll need a decent multitouch trackpad (for the Metro monitor) and a mouse (for the Desktop monitor). That's a lot of hardware to throw at a configuration, but I can imagine situations where it might be useful.
There's also talk of being able to disable the loathsome hot corners on the Desktop. If you're tired of running your mouse up to an X box in the upper right of the screen, only to accidentally bring up the Charms bar, some respite may be at hand in Win8.1.
Finally, we're assured that Windows 8.1 will be able to boot directly to the Desktop -- or to any selected Metro app, for that matter. Nobody's seen that capability yet, but you can count on it making the final Win8.1 preview release cut.
Some industry analysts are trumpeting Win8.1's ability to support lower-resolution (thus, presumably physically smaller) screens. Sorry -- that feature was introduced in Windows 8.
It sounds like Win8.1 will de-emphasize libraries by removing the Libraries entry on the left side of the File Explorer (formerly Windows Explorer) window. I haven't heard any justification for knee-capping one of Win7's best features. No doubt we'll see something in the Windows blog about it shortly.
The bottom line: Windows 8.1 "Blue" is more of the same nonsense
There's a lot coming down the pike in Win8.1, but it's mostly more of the same, now piled higher.
If you thought Microsoft would suddenly realize it was alienating the world's largest installed user base and thus backtrack on some of its more controversial Win8 decisions, you'd be dead wrong. Windows 8.1 clearly reiterates Microsoft's vision of a Jekyll-and-Hyde operating system, with hardly a nod to traditional Desktop customers.
Microsoft really should look at InfoWorld's Windows Red proposal that would seriously fix Windows 8's flaws and showcase the several useful innovations now buried in an unusable user experience.
This story, "Windows 'Blue': Microsoft blows it," 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.