The Start button, long an integral part of the Microsoft Windows experience, could be headed for extinction.
The news comes courtesy of a tech site called PC Beta, which has obtained screenshots of a "consumer preview" of Windows 8, the forthcoming OS. Meanwhile, several tech reporters, including Adrian Kingsley-Hughes of ZDNet, have managed to confirm that the Start button will be replaced, probably by something called a "hot corner" – a feature that "duplicates the functionality offered by the old button," Kingsley-Hughes writes.
The "hot corner," the team at The Verge reports, will provide "a consistent way to access the Windows desktop and Start Screen in Windows 8 regardless of touch or mouse input. The new interface is activated on hover from the lower-left corner of Windows 8 and includes a thumbnail preview of where you will navigate to after clicking on the new visual element."
For Windows geeks, this marks the end of an era.
Since Windows 95, the Start button has served as a kind of visual shorthand for Windows itself. (It's no accident that Microsoft used the song "Start Me Up," by the Rolling Stones, to help hype Windows 95.) The button has been modified frequently over the past decade and a half – Windows XP, for instance, used a Start "halo" instead of a Start rectangle – but the feature has remained a central part of the Windows landscape.
Still, Windows 8, set for release later this year, is meant to be a radically rejiggered operating system, translatable to both smartphones and tablet computers. It makes sense that Microsoft would want to re-envision the Windows desktop presentation. So how will users react to the new scenery? Well, as Gavin Clarke notes over at the Register, "any change," major or minor, poses risks for Microsoft.
"You risk alienating customers," Clarke writes. "Microsoft's last great interface change was Office 2007, which introduced the much-hated Ribbon interface. Microsoft could be on safer ground with the Start button, given it has said Windows users were only using the Start Button to access the items most commonly used on their desktops."
In other words, since plenty of users have stopped clicking on the Start button, they might not even miss it once it's gone.