When Microsoft released Windows 8 back in October, 2012, the company faced serious backlash from its loyal fans for eliminating the Start Button (aka Start Orb) from the mix. Unlike its predecessors, Windows 8 boots to a Start screen, which presents the good ‘ol desktop as a regular app tile. The Start screen replaces the Start Button with a Start tile that pops up whenever the mouse pointer hits the bottom-left corner. After playing around with Windows 8.1 Preview for a while, all we can say is that Redmond did finally listen to the users. Taking a 180 degrees turn, Windows 8.1 not only brings back that familiar Start Button, but also allows users to boot straight to the desktop. That aside, the Start screen itself has been improved quite a bit, providing users with more flexibility in altering tile sizes and more ease in creating & editing tile groups. After the break, we’ll be taking a closer look at each of these features.
The Start Button
The Start button was the first delightful thing we noticed after getting the updated OS up and running. Unlike Windows 7, the Windows 8.1 Start button sports a flat, plain-white design that fits well with the new look and feel of the OS.
Hover the mouse pointer over the Start button and you will see the logo change to the accent color (a dark shade of purple by default) over a black background. The animated gleam that passes over the logo (both here and in the Start Charm) might not seem very Modern UI-esque, but it does add a nice effect.
What a lot of users might find disappointing is that the Start button simply opens up the Start screen. That’s right; still no fly-up menu like the one we had grown accustomed to through previous versions of Windows. Fret not, though, as we’ve already covered some of the best alternatives to the Start screen. Also, you can set the new Start button to somewhat replicate the behavior of the old Start Orb by having it open the All Apps screen instead of the Start screen. We will discuss this along with other navigation options in an upcoming post.
As odd as it might sound, the Start button doesn’t appear at the bottom-left corner of the Start screen itself unless you move the mouse pointer there. It would have been nice to have the button permanently present there to make things a bit snappier.
New Start Screen Tile Sizes & Customization Options
You won’t find any drastic change in the Start screen of Windows 8.1 Preview. It looks exactly like its Windows 8 counterpart, the only difference being there are now dynamic Start screen backgrounds with subtle animations, and new tile resizing and sorting options. For now, there seems to be just one animated background, that being the default one with the betta fish. One other very handy addition is the option to set the current desktop wallpaper as the background of the Start screen.
Moving on to tile sizes.
Up until now, you had only two tile sizes to choose from. Windows 8.1, following in the footsteps of its mobile counterpart, gives users much more flexibility in this regard. When you right-click a tile, a new button labeled ‘Resize’ appears in the app bar.
Click this button and you will find two additional options for increasing or decreasing the size of the selected tile; Large and Small. In Windows 8 you could only switch between what Windows 8.1 calls ‘Wide’ and ‘Medium’. The new Large size is basically a Wide tile with twice as much height. The Small size is quarter of a Medium tile.`
Although Small tiles allow you to pack more shortcuts into a single stack, remember that any tiles reduced to that size will stop displaying live information. Moreover, touch-based device users with oversized fingers might find tapping the new Small-sized tiles a tad troublesome.
We are not quite finished with the Start screen yet. Another improvement Windows 8.1 Preview has brought to this part of the OS is the way you can customize tile groups. In Windows 8′s Start screen, you needed to click the miniscule (-) button in the bottom-right corner of the screen to zoom out to a bird’s-eye view of the screen and then right-click a stack of tiles to specify a group name. Windows 8.1 has effectively refined this process by cutting it down to fewer steps. Right-click anywhere on the Start screen and select the new Customize button from the app bar to instantly bring up the tile grouping option. Right-clicking any tile does the same.
When customization is active, you can quickly name or rename tile groups to your liking by clicking the text field over each.
Batch Tile Moving On Start Screen
The Start screen is now much easier to edit and arrange thanks to the addition of a very basic feature that, a lot of users will agree, should have been there in the first place: batch moving of tiles. In Windows 8, you could unpin multiple tiles from the Start screen at once but you were only allowed to move one tile at a time. In 8.1, you can select as many tiles as you want and drag to move the entire selection to another group or an entirely new one. The group moves as one tile (the one you drag), with the total number of selected tiles indicated in its top-right corner.
Easier Access To All Apps From Start Screen
The All Apps screen is now much easier to access as well, with its shortcut having been moved from the concealed apps bar to the forefront. Clicking the arrow below the bottom-left most tile on the Start Screen or swiping upwards on the screen.
When Windows 7 was launched, many people cited the new OS as what Vista should have been in the first place. The story behind Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 is pretty much the same. The best thing is, Windows 8.1 Preview hasn’t just brought back the features Windows 8 had shed, it has left it up to the users to decide whether they want to use them or not.
Sameed Khan contributed to this post