What You Get with the Windows 8.1 Start Button

On October 17,¬†Microsoft will roll out the official RTM version of Windows 8.1, marking the return of the much-talked-about Start button. While many have not missed it, a vocal group have made enough noise for Microsoft to take notice and action. But don’t expect the long-lost Start button of yore – the one first introduced in Windows 95 and which died with Windows 7. The 8.1 version is a lot different from its ancestor.

The Windows 8.1 Start button is a stop-gap, a bone being tossed to those who complained. Essentially it is a step between Windows 7 and Windows 9, after complete removal proved to be too drastic a change for some.

Excited upgraders will likely click the button fully expecting a menu to appear, but that will not happen – there is no Documents, Pictures, list of installed programs or anything of the sort.

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Instead Start now whisks you away to the Windows 8 Start screen, functioning no differently from a press of the Windows key or placing the mouse pointer at the bottom left corner of the screen, which is an option that was removed in favor of this “new and improved” way of doing things.

Context menus, by nature, are hidden, but Microsoft tends to love them for some reason. The new Start button is no exception – right-click on it and you will find a rather long list of items, including Programs and Features, which is the Control Panel option for uninstalling programs, Power Options (restart, shutdown, etc.), Device Manager, Task Manager, File Explorer and several more.

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You will note that there is something rather important lacking – a list of your programs. While Desktop option is present, it does nothing but minimize open windows to display what is beneath them. Currently there is no option to change this, though context menu editors exist and someone, like Context Menu Tuner, is certain to find a way.

Surprisingly, the menu does contain access to little known, and traditionally, geeky, options like Run, Disk Management and Command Prompt.

As for viewing a full list of your programs, for now things have not changed from Windows 8. In other words, you can use that Start button you now have (well, will have in mid-October) to access the Metro screen, but this also has changed in version 8.1. While Windows 8 scrolled to the right to view installed apps, 8.1 has an arrow at the bottom of the Start screen – click it for a list of everything.

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In addition, of course, there is still the Search option from the Charms menu. In fact, just typing from the Start screen pops up apps – no Search needed.

It may not be exactly what some users are looking for, but the new Start button coming to Windows 8.1 lends a bit of functionality, though hides it in the guise of a context menu. There will assuredly be ways to fix this up, though customers may have a brief wait for those options to become available.

Microsoft will roll out the update, which is more than the mere service pack that past versions received, but less than a new OS, next month. If you can’t wait, then a preview version is already on the market, but provides no upgrade path to the RTM. Of course, the RTM has also leaked, so there are other methods for regular users to grab it, and TechNet and MSDN subscribers have advanced access.