First of all I need to declare that in writing this blog post I am not using any Microsoft employee knowledge about the next release of Windows. I actually don’t have any more info than my readers. It does however seem that various tech journalists do have some info, and as of today Microsoft have officially blogged some info on the subject. I don’t intend to write a full synopsis, because you can read it here. But will add some thoughts.

Windows 8.1 start screenIn October last year I wrote about the disappearance of the start button. Apparently the whole world hated Windows 8 and it was rendered completely unusable because the start button and the start menu had been removed and replaced (shock, horror) with something new. I’m prepared to look at both sides of the argument. I will first say that any tech journalist who in the last six months found himself (or herself) short of something to write would fill their column with an article about how the world was lamenting the demise of the start button and they did their best to convince everyone that they’d hate Windows 8. Personally I didn’t have any issue swapping from Windows 7 to 8 (hell, I started using the less polished preview release) and really couldn’t see what all the fuss was (well, is) about.

The other side of the argument reminded me of a web site dedicated to hatred of Lotus Notes. I used to look at it and think that the guy running it just didn’t understand Notes. But occasionally I’d consider the fact that there was a reason he didn’t understand things, that actually some things didn’t work as expected. Now, some people will be purposely obtuse if they’re determined not to like something – I have seen people I know to be very clever feign confusion for the sake of an argument or to prove a point, when I know that working the Windows 8 start screen should be well within their grasp. But there has been a groundswell of people complaining about Windows 8’s new look, so you do have to consider whether they are being purposely obtuse or whether they really don’t get it.

Windows 8.1 weather appThe rumour mill has been turning on the subject of Windows 8.1 for a while now, and topping the speculation was the return of the start button. Today’s blog post doesn’t confirm that, but with something that looks like a new style of start button in a screenshot (in the place where the start button used to be) it looks like the reinstatement is a good bet.

The start menu, however, is nowhere to be seen, probably because it won’t be returning. That won’t appease some people, but as I mentioned in the October post there are advantages in the start screen over the ol’ start menu. There are some improvements to the start screen – more options for tile sizes, custom images (so you can use your current desktop image as the start screen background, thus easing you into the experience) and improvements to live app tiles (see the weather in the screen shot).

As you’d expect, opinion has been divided. The Verge stated that “many small tweaks make for a significant¬†update”, ZDNet posed the question “will it change your mind about Windows 8?”, and Business Insider showed their feelings on the matter with “Microsoft Updates Windows To Fix Everything It Botched In Windows 8”.