The blogosphere lit up over the weekend with screenshots of the latest almost-ready-for-Customer-Preview version of Windows 8, known as Build 8220. You can see the screenshots on the Chinese-language website PCBeta.com.
If you've been playing with the Developer Preview, you know that the "legacy" Windows desktop has a big black hole in the lower-left corner, with a very retro Windows Start flag on it. Click on the desktop's Start flag and you're hurled into the Metro interface -- a very rude comeuppance for anyone expecting the two-decade-old Windows Start menu.
Take a close look at the screenshots of Build 8220 and you'll see that the flat Start flag from the Developer Preview isn't there any more. In its place there's a blank spot that's about a third as wide as a normal Taskbar icon. I'm told if you hover your mouse (or swipe your finger?) over the new version of the black hole on the legacy desktop, you see a preview of the Metro screen. Click, and you go to the Metro screen. Conversely, if you're looking at the Metro screen and you hover your mouse or swipe your finger to the lower-left corner, you see a preview of the legacy desktop.
Much ado has been made about the fact that the Windows orb is gone. Meh, says I. Who cares? The Windows orb -- and Start button before it -- were just convenient hitching posts for hanging access to the Start menu. Microsoft can blow the orb and Start button to smithereens and not affect the way we use Windows. In the future, written instructions won't say "Click Start" they'll say "Hover your mouse in the lower-left corner." Fair enough.
But getting rid of the Start menu? That's a completely different kettle of fish.
Based on the screenshots, based on the Developer Preview, based on everything I've read -- including Steve Sinofsky's series of posts on the subject -- it's obvious that Microsoft isn't going to give us a Start menu in Windows 8. And it's becoming increasingly clear that there are no plans to put an optional legacy Start menu on the legacy desktop for running legacy programs. As Sinofsky says, "After studying real-world usage of the Start menu through a variety of techniques, we realized that it was serving mainly as the launcher for programs you rarely use."
That's precisely why we need the Start menu! To make it easy to find and launch legacy programs that we don't use every day. The Start menu embodies a compact, multilevel heirarchy that's easy to navigate quickly. It has lots of shortcomings -- I've written chapters in several books about how to work around the problems -- but at its heart, the menu structure makes it easy to discover and launch programs I don't use every day.