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Why Microsoft is backtracking with Windows 8.1 Blue

Gordon Kelly


Why Microsoft is backtracking with Windows 8.1 Blue

meFour words have triggered talk of the biggest tech U-turn in years. ‘CanSuppressStartScreen’ was found in leaked code for the Windows 8.1 ‘Blue’ software update.

Can. Suppress. Start. Screen.

The same start screen Microsoft hailed at launch five months ago as ‘A Beautiful New Start’, the future of computing and the answer to unifying PC and post-PC devices. The ultimate answer to the ultimate question.

Does it really expect to make better progress shipping Windows 7 version 2.0? I think it makes more sense than what it was doing...

Windows 8 pitch is naive

Up to now, Microsoft’s pitch for Windows 8 has been incredibly naive. It equates to this: everyone likes touchscreens; everyone likes tablets; everyone knows smartphones and tablets are eating into PC sales; we don’t have successful smartphones and tablets but look everyone here is an operating system that makes your PC work like a smartphone and tablet!

Except most PCs don’t ship with touchscreens and their software isn’t optimised for touchscreens. Microsoft’s desperate leap of faith was too big and - much like any movie will tell you - those who try hardest to avoid their fate are guaranteed to cause it.

Cue IDC last week revealing PC sales in 2013 experienced their worst ever slump and that Windows 8, far from reviving the market, has slowed it, while pointing the finger at the 'radical' interface.


Windows 8 = Windows 7 but even better

What Microsoft forgot was fundamental. Not everyone likes touchscreens, not everyone wants a smartphone and/or tablet to replace their PC and far from everyone wants their PC to operate like their smartphone… especially all in one go and before hardware designs and costs have evolved to ease the transition. These memories now appear to have been restored.

While Microsoft has yet to comment on the ‘CanSuppressStartScreen’ code leak, it is already starting to sell a very different image of Windows 8 to customers in preparation of Blue. One product manager has even gone on record saying he now starts his Windows 8 pitch on the desktop, not the new Start Screen, selling the idea that Windows 8 is the smarter, faster and more secure update to the already popular Windows 7.

That's the key: Windows 8 is Windows 7 enhanced and it can be something new when you are ready for it to do that. And if you're not ready for a revolution, Windows 8 can boot straight to the desktop.

That should be Microsoft's new pitch.

Windows family

Stand and deliver

The good news for Microsoft is the naive, reckless yet ambitious motivations behind the creation of Windows 8 should ultimately stand it in good stead long-term. Most importantly, while painful, it has made the jump to a unifying PC and post-PC platform where rivals have not. Moreover, Microsoft’s command on the PC sector remains strong. So strong in fact that Gartner reports Windows-based devices still outsold all poster boy Apple’s devices (iPods, iPhones, iPads, Macs and MacBooks combined) last year by 175m to 159m units.

That said, Gartner goes on to claim Apple will overtake Microsoft for devices sold in 2013 and for that Windows 8 will shoulder much of the blame. Windows 8.1 doesn’t fix problems with the company’s convoluted Windows RT branding either, nor the lack of affordable touchscreen hardware. Whether Windows 8 has suffered Windows Vista-like damage to its reputation also remains to be seen.

Ultimately, if it has it would be a shame. When I wrote about why I love and hate Windows 8 I said Windows 8 is “brilliant yet rushed, slick yet jarring, entirely lovable yet utterly hateable and determined to shake up the status quo”.

This remains the case and is something I suspect we won’t see from the next Mac OS X point release.

For more on Windows 8.1, read Can Windows 8 Blue make users care about Windows 8?

Jack Westrop

April 17, 2013, 4:04 pm

...As I had predicted on a previous article on here

Gordon Kelly

April 17, 2013, 6:38 pm



April 17, 2013, 9:25 pm

Somewhere out there (I can't find it) is a video clip of Ballmer doggedly trying to convince a sceptical reporter at a trade fair that Windows (pre 8) really works fine on a tablet. Unfortunately his sausage fingers just can't make it fly, and the reporter makes his point.
(found it: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/pro... )

Sadly, the lesson he seemed to have learned from that painful experience appears to be that the world needed a touch/gesture based Windows, yet irrespective of whether that be on a tablet or not.

I wish they would come out of the closet and tell us what Blue will bring - if it is suppression of Metro, and the return of a Start button, then I'd buy an upgrade now.

It has nothing to do with the cost of touchscreens - I wouldn't want to operate a desktop by touch; bad ergonomics, fingerprints, loss of fine control, what's to like?


April 18, 2013, 8:11 am

You guys are funny. All this start screen/desktop booting stuff really is a joke. You'll still have the Metro start screen; they won't be bringing back the start menu. So you're all excited over the prospect that your computer will boot to the desktop? Because pressing the desktop icon from the (oh so scary start menu) is too difficult?

I'll say it again, even though it will fall on deaf ears: Windows 8 works perfectly fine with a keyboard and mouse, you don't need touch. The touch gestures work with a touchpad you'll have on nearly all laptops already, and really, the start menu being a start screen doesn't exactly cause any major headaches. Does it?
If you actually sit down and use Windows 8 as a computer, like you would any other computer, you will soon find that you spend approximately no time looking at your start screen icons. You will work in your desktop mode and you will be happy. And then when you do use a tablet device or RT device you'll still be familiar with the interface, and make use of the touch-orientated metro apps.

This mole hill sure is looking mountainous right now. To some.


April 18, 2013, 10:50 am

I honestly don't think it's a problem for power users (in fact I find the metro start menu pretty good - I like the way it works).

I think where people really struggle is when they aren't power users. Some people really aren't that computer literate (I'm always staggered how many people at work don't really know how to use a computer but use it every day for work). For these people I reckon booting in to the desktop and using the metro layer as an advanced start menu isn't actually a bad option.


April 18, 2013, 10:53 am

If you view the Windows 8 Start screen as the start menu "but more so", it really is a brilliant feature - it's just a shame the apps are a bit...lame. The Metro UI look and feel is actually simple to a fault when you're viewing apps in it.


April 18, 2013, 11:00 am

I always thought it would suit your normal office computer-illiterate user more. They turn on their computer and get greeted by big icons with pictures. Click Internet Explorer, or Excel and tada, they're there. I imagine it scaring so-called power users more than typical homes/office users. They'll just get on with it.

I feel your pain of the clueless computer operator. You have my sympathies.

Gareth Barber

April 18, 2013, 11:03 am

I would say this is far from the reality, as a software developer the interface is just terrible for productivity. The WIMP interface metaphor is well established as were windows, win 8 replaces both of these with a confusing interface that does away with any intuitive sense of what things are or do with ... well I'm not even sure what I'd call it. The defaulting of everything to full screen is also poor choice on a proper desktop application.

Power users have windows up the kazoo, I can imagine casual users may be happy with the modal full screen model or the split screen with multiple 'apps'.

If windows 8 machines came with a little 'getting to use the new interface' leaflet or a start up video like windows 95 and 98 came with it would have removed 90% of the confusion on what is anything but an intuitive interface. What's wrong with a cross to close a window/application, its far more effort to drag the window down, and it doesn't make any sense either, what is the metaphor here representing?

Classic shell is a godsend, it's the only thing stopping me installing another OS on a new laptop with win 8 as the Metro default is confusing, confused (different versions of the same application on desktop with a different interface and no interoperability) and inefficient if you want to do anything but consume information/media in a one at a time fashion, just like a smartphone or tablet. This is no different to putting a joystick in a car, its simply not the appropriate interface for the device/purpose.

Plenty of actual power users hate it.


April 18, 2013, 11:04 am

It's a good point - I wonder if the biggest confusion comes when they minimise an app and suddenly realise they are on the desktop. It's the "you're not in Kansas anymore" syndrome isn't it - if you minimised an app and you basically saw the metro layer again (I guess what I'm saying here is that there really shouldn't be a "desktop" if you want Metro to really work for you) it might be a better experience?


April 18, 2013, 11:10 am

I think plenty of power users like to hate it, do you know what I mean? It's interesting because I'm a QA and find it really straight forward to use.

That's not to say I like it - the idea of it booting straight in to the desktop is nice, then the Metro layer being the start menu is good, it's a great start menu, I like the fact that you just start typing and it starts looking for content/programs etc.


April 18, 2013, 11:15 am

I'm sorry, but Windows 8 (& Windows 2012 for the admin's out there) are a disaster of a UI. Yes they look good on the adverts, but try using them once you have 40+ applications clogging up the space. And every application has multiple Icons... Nice... Now can no-longer find anything. MS seem to have forgotten the concept of folders, which is why the start menu worked so well ON A PC!

On Windows 8, it's forgiveable, just about, as they're trying to flog the UI concept on a PC. Consumers like touch, right?

On Windows 2012, it's a joke. All the progress they made with the OS and the stability is completely undone with a frankly ridiculous interface. Touch on Windows Server 2012? Hahahaha.

I've been using Windows since 3.51 and seen it grow and have always been the first to update (well apart from Vista), but after putting it onto the house laptop to play with, the missus wants me to remove it asap (she's a business professional btw). I can see me being on Windows 7 until they release 8.1 or whatever Marketing rubbish they come up with to apologise for the mess. Actually I might just go apple and have done with it. At least their updates add functionality, not take it away.

Add to that, loads of MS programs / apps (SharePoint, Office 2010) all require patches, workarounds or mostly just require you to upgrade to get back the experience you had with Windows 7. hmmm...

Windows 7 is the new XP... Here to stay.

Gareth Barber

April 18, 2013, 1:49 pm

I understand what you're getting at, but as a QA how could you work with a single modal window or at least in the way metro tries to force you? If all you want to do is browse the net then this is fine, but widgets and the like are a better solution to full screen tickers or the weather etc .

The whole interface is suited to a small screen operated using touch, it isn't suitable to running multiple applications side by side or layered. If you need to correlated numerous documents for example do some accountancy requiring multiple spreadsheets and some other sources (word/pdf or email for example) with a fair bit of copy and pasting between, a touch interface is not suited without windows and enforced modal interface, but a pc/windows has evolved to do this.

For software development I often require 3 or more windows and applications open at any one point, I need to wiz between them instantly, maybe layer them to fit within a single screen (if working on the move), metro fundamentally prevents me from working efficiently

I believe an OS should be a silent partner enabling applications to work on a system, I care about getting work done via necessary applications and shouldn't have to think about the OS interface. Metro (or whatever they decided to call it after getting sued) is in your face, it tries to become a focus and not the background, it is an additional layer between me and getting the work done.

As mentioned forcing this on a server OS is barmy in the extreme and is a symptom of MS's current 'we know best' hubris.


April 19, 2013, 12:53 pm

I think with a certain amount of merging, the windows 8 interface it could work on a desktop. If you imagine starting with everything as windows normally is (i.e. windows 7) with the tiles as the rest of the desktop - in a desktop background like way. You still have your taskbar, can open multiple applications (in any size window). Hitting start button could display the desktop/tiles screen. All with the possibility to further choose how you'd like your OS to work/look - go full windows 8 tiles or back to good old windows.

Jack Westrop

April 19, 2013, 8:14 pm

Leave out the sarcasm. Lets take a look at that previous conversation OCT2012:

Share the code, share the Modern UI, but the desktop requires a full fat Desktop UI option.
Prediction: MS eventually reverts desktop Win8 to its classic Win7 UI by default

I'll have a sportsman's bet with you that MS doesn't revert....
Microsoft is prepared to go under if the Modern UI fails, that's how determined it is to push it through. There will be no pulling of it.

‘CanSuppressStartScreen’ in 8.1 isn't official yet, so I could be wrong, but your own journalism is telling me that I'm right. So you lost the bet congrats.

Jack Westrop

April 19, 2013, 8:40 pm

You couldn't be more correct. Face palming a the comments on here. People thinking the Metro UI is better for power users... what? Its been designed to be as simple as possible, not as productive as possible... It's admittedly great for phones and tablets, because that is what it was designed for, but the desktop is a production machine, it requires a full fat Desktop mode. I would even be perfectly happy if the metro start screen was the default boot UI, but once you clicked desktop mode, that's it, you have full windows 7 UI... right now, your switching between the two, even when you dont mean to, when I open an image file in desktop mode, it takes me to the metro picture viewer app.. incredibly frustrating when I have a classic shell running which has disabled the edge of screen functions.. Perfect solution. Keep phone, tablets, xbox720 on the metro UI... give 8.1 on desktops the option to have a FULL desktop mode, but with the option to switch to metro on the startbar somewhere. 1 click to get between either, and you must click it, no accidental reverts to a mode you dont want.


April 20, 2013, 9:03 pm

this is a horrendously ignorant rant by someone who obviously is not
using the products yet.... i have been using windows 8 and server 2012
for quite some time now.. and they're fantastic upgrades, NO stability
issues at all, AND (go figure) DO HAVE DESKTOP MODES. you seriously
just need to go back under the rock you came out of.

Gordon Kelly

April 22, 2013, 1:56 pm

Haha, I think you're twisting the bet.

All Microsoft is doing is (potentially) putting a button to load back to the Modern UI - a shortcut. This is a long way from the desktop being default. Furthermore this is simply a move to bridge the gap for confused or alienated customers while the modern UI matures. Windows 9 will have less desktop, not more - the pattern has been set.


April 22, 2013, 8:18 pm

Really, so an MCSE systems architect isn't qualified to make a comment? Just because it's more stable than the previous version??? A brick is stable, does that mean it increases productivity or is easy to use? Try putting it in a modern business and see what the employees do, not in front of users brought up on iPads.

Jack Westrop

April 22, 2013, 11:41 pm

I meant to allow the user to decide to use desktop mode by default...ie 'cansuppressstartscreen' not that desktop mode would be the default default - if that makes sense... just that there will be an option for a full windows 7 style desktop mode.. aye we shall see

Gordon Kelly

April 23, 2013, 11:57 am

I agree with you, it is definitely the right thing to do. Given Microsoft ultimately wants to move users over to the modern UI it will be interesting to see how it plans to achieve this while having to take a step it didn't want.

With any luck this will inspire it to try harder to make the new UI more appealing.

NX Simon

April 23, 2013, 2:50 pm

windows key + d. This should give you most functions of 7. The massive black bars that come over the screen are quite annoying though. If only there was a simple desktop mode easily accessible.

They rushed through the release but the ironic thing is that all the work done to make things like windows mail compatible with easy use like e.g. rss feeds was not there in the release but that would have been better. Windows mail itself was terrible. The lack of being able to sort the mail e.g. stick it in archive and named folders showed a criminal lack of thought.

forget about it. IT's a little fast, but the things that most people were annoyed about the is the lack of compatibility for web-based flash etc.

It's quick though.

OMG, bad programming is however endemic. Try high-lighting part of this text box. You can't.

However you shouldn't take my word for it about Windows 8 - I've not used it since the release as it was not fit for purpose at the date of the rollback to the consumer release.

Perhaps they want everyone to buy a mac.

Good luck for 9. I'd skip the next two, wait on 11.


April 23, 2013, 7:22 pm

The suppress start screen feature is for running Windows in kiosk mode only - so cannot be used by regular users to boot straight to the desktop. Do you really think Microsoft would be stupid enough to allow people to bypass it? If they did, no app developer in their right mind would bother developing any metro apps for something that most people would bypass given the choice.

Gordon Kelly

April 25, 2013, 12:22 am

Interesting point

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