Love it or hate it, Microsoft Windows 8 will be pushing the Metro UI heavily on its users once it reaches gold master release. Not everyone is a fan of the Metro UI, including myself, and I had to wonder if the rather gimped desktop mode could ever be improved upon, either by Microsoft or by the hacker community at large.
Enter Stardock, the company behind the award-winning WindowBlinds application for GUI customization. Having heard the cries near and far about the lack of a proper Start button on Windows 8's desktop mode, they created a quick utility called Start8 that attempts to solve this conundrum with a program bar tweak. Best of all, it is freeware.
With my copy of Windows 8 Consumer Preview fired up, I decided to give Stardock's band-aid solution a spin. After installing Start8, the Windows 8 desktop mode graced itself with a now-visible Windows Start orb button. With it, I am able to pull up a Start menu of sorts, albeit a Metro-ized version of it.
The menu is not really customizable at all, and it really lacks the options that one would normally find on the Start Menu. Thankfully, the search functionality is quite fast, and I can get to almost anything, all the while remaining in the desktop mode, simply by typing the name of a program, file, or setting and then pressing the Enter key. Think of it as a Windows equivalent to OS X's Spotlight feature that eats up a bit more screen real estate.
There are also a few hidden options that can be found within Start8. Simply right-click the Windows orb to reveal a pop-up menu that contains options for shutting down your PC, running commands, changing the look of the Start button, and toggling the full-screen Metro UI menu mode. For the Start button customization feature, you can use the graphic files provided with the Start8 application, or you can supply your own.
All in all, Start8 does a pretty nice job filling in the void left by Microsoft over the lack of a Start button. However, despite the utility's well-intentioned step in the right direction, you will be disappointed if you were expecting something along the lines of a standard Windows 7 style Start Menu. Still, I immediately adopted this add-on for Windows 8, since it does wonders for working within the new interface and it makes Windows 8 a good bit more tolerable to use. Who knows, perhaps Microsoft may pay heed to Stardock's tweak and officially reincorporate the Start button back in before Windows 8 releases to the masses. Of course, only time will tell.
An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Customer Success Professional for Ultimate Software in Santa Ana, California.