And they voted with their wallets, either by staying away from Windows 8 -- and shying from any new PC purchases -- or if forced to the new OS, by supporting a cottage industry of third-party add-ons that restored both boot-to-desktop and the Start button. StarDock, for example, claimed earlier this year that its $5 Start8 add-on had been downloaded 3 million times, with thousands of people trying it daily.
Even with that on the line, StarDock CEO Brad Wardell applauded Microsoft's presumed move. "I hope Microsoft adds back the Start button and a boot to desktop option," said Wardell in an email Tuesday. "While we would miss the short-term revenue boost of Start8, it is important to keep the Windows software ecosystem healthy and growing."
The talk today suggests that Microsoft has rethought not only the design of Windows 8, but also its strategy.
"The feedback they've had should tell them that people are not ready to live in the Modern UI, so they need to make [Windows 8's desktop] as good as, if not better, than Windows 7," said J.P. Gownder, an analyst with Forrester Research. "When the tipping point happens, perhaps in a couple of years as the Windows Store fills up, when all the key apps are there, then they can rethink."
And withdraw the Start button yet again, Gownder meant.
Most outside Microsoft believe the company's decision stemmed from a misguided touch-first doctrine, fueled by the belief that only if customers were forced to run apps would they buy apps, and that only by coercing them could Microsoft quickly create a pool of users large enough to attract app developers to the new platform.
Gownder understood that thinking, even appreciated it, but still said it had been wrong.
"I understand Microsoft wanting to drive charms," Gownder said, referring to the set of persistent icons for chores such as searching, sharing content or accessing the OS settings. "There is an argument toward design purity, to reimagine Windows, and that people must become comfortable with the charms. That's legitimate. But the overwhelming feedback was that perhaps the train was taking off a little too early."
Moorhead argued that backpedaling wouldn't significantly hurt Microsoft's push toward an app ecosystem.
"This is very positive, because it doesn't take away from the experience of 'Metro,' " he said, using the older term for the Modern UI. " It just gives users a way to get back to Metro that's obvious. It doesn't say anything about Metro, doesn't say it's good or bad. It doesn't change that argument at all."
Gownder urged Microsoft to backtrack on the boot-to-desktop and Start button controversies, noting in a longer blog post Tuesday that the horse had left the barn -- users were already adopting Start button emulators -- and that the company should accept the inevitable, if only to keep its enterprise customers happy.
"Microsoft needs to step back and do this," Gownder said. "Enterprises are not about to support one of these workarounds. For them, this [functionality] needs to be in the OS layer."
Redmond has done 180-degree turns before. When customers howled about Windows Vista's intrusive User Account Control (UAC), the prompts designed to warn of risk when installing and running software, Microsoft dramatically reduced UAC's impact in Windows 7 three years later.
Now it has an advantage, as it's committed to a faster release cycle -- one executive called it "continuous" -- and assuming the leaks are correct, can modify Windows 8 in a third of the time.