Free tool restores Start button to Windows 8

Microsoft dumped the 17-year-old iconic feature, but StarDock's free Start8 adds it back

A company known for software that customizes Windows has released a free tool that restores the Start button to Microsoft's Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

StarDock, notable for its WindowBlinds customizing program, shipped Start8 on Tuesday.

The free tool reinstates the Start button and the ensuing Start menu to the Windows 8 desktop.

More than a month ago -- and before Microsoft launched the Consumer Preview -- reports began circulating that the company had ditched the 17-year-old Start button. Some users have expressed dismay at the button's disappance, saying that it makes it more difficult to use the new operating system.

Reviewers also frequently commented on the Start button's vanishing act.

"The Windows Desktop is less useful in Windows 8 than it was in previous Windows versions for a number of reasons -- notably because the Start button has been taken away," said Computerworld's Preston Gralla in his deep dive into the Consumer Preview this week.

Microsoft debuted the Start button in August 1995 with that year's release of Windows 95, a massive overhaul of the Windows 3.1 user interface, or UI.

Instead of a Start button, Windows 8 uses a "hot corner" at the lower left. When that invisible hotspot is touched or clicked, the interface switches from the traditional desktop UI to Metro, or vice versa.

The Windows 8 Developer Preview, which launched last September, had retained the Start button.

Microsoft shipped Windows 8 Consumer Preview on Feb. 29.

There are ways other than StarDock's Start8 tool to restore a Start button to Windows 8, including one outlined by Gralla that places a Start Menu toolbar at the bottom of the screen.

Start8 can be downloaded from StarDock's website; users must submit an email address to obtain the too.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com .

Read more about windows in Computerworld's Windows Topic Center.

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Gregg Keizer

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