Interview: Stardock's CEO gives an update on Start8

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Windows 8's Metro interface lacks the traditional Start button and menu we have seen in the past several Windows operating systems. A lot of people felt it was a mistake for Microsoft to abandon this setup. Among them was Stardock CEO Brad Wardell. In March, Stardock released Start8, a free app for Windows 8 that added a version of the Start button and menu to the Metro UI.

There hasn't been an update for Start8 since March but in a new interview, Wardell tells us to expect a small update later in July, along with a major new version coming for the launch of Windows 8 this fall. He also gives us an interesting response when we asked him about Microsoft's recent statement on why they decided to get rid of the Start button, along with other topics.

First, can you tell us about how many downloads of Start8 have you had since you released the first version?

The interest in the betas of Start8 has been phenomenal. I think it demonstrates that a lot of people -- and I'd argue most people -- expect their Windows desktop to have a concise and effective way to get to their stuff. The Start button and its corresponding menu is the result of decades of refinement in usability. The removal of it in Windows 8 is baffling to me. Normally, user experience shifts occur to due underlying technological changes. DOS to Windows, for example, occurred because the underlying technology allowed us to transition to an environment that was both easier to use and more productive. By contrast, the Windows 8 desktop is clearly a step back -- they removed functionality in an effort to appeal to a different demographic -- content consumers.

A Microsoft rep recently said they decided to do away with the Start button for Windows 8 due to Windows 7 users not using the button any more in favor of pinning applications to the task bar. Do you feel this is a good enough explanation for their reasoning?

My answer to that is: Shenanigans.

You have said in the past that while you like Windows 8 as a whole, in your opinion the Metro interface doesn't work well with PCs. Have you seen any improvements since the Release Preview version of Windows 8?

No. Microsoft has essentially decided to focus Windows 8 around content consumers instead of producers. I've seen people argue that only power users are unhappy with the Windows 8 user experience. But really, it's anyone who is trying to produce something with a personal computer that is going to find their productivity diminished.

You have not made any updates to Start8 since March. When can we expect the next update?

We have an update due this month which will allow the computer to boot directly into the desktop. Our main effort has been on the release version which is due out this Fall that is designed to allow users to use Windows 8 as a pure desktop experience OS.

Why have you decided to wait until the launch of Windows 8 to release a major new version of Start8?

We've been holding back on new features because we didn't want to deal with the case where a feature gets broken by a beta update to Windows 8. It would just cause us unnecessary support issues. We are also not certain how Microsoft will, from a political point of view, feel about some of the things we're doing and would not want them to make changes that would make it harder to do some of the things we're doing.

How much interest have you received from PC makers about adding the Start8 feature to their Windows 8 PCs?

Several of the major PC OEMs have already contacted us about pre-loading Start8 during the 2013 cycle. Essentially, they're going to wait and see what the reaction to the Metro / Desktop hybrid experience in Windows 8.

Will anyone still be able to download and/or purchase the final version of Start8 when it is officially launched?

Oh yea. Start8 is going to be freeware still for non-commercial use.

What other plans does Stardock have for Windows 8-based products?

We have a number of WinRT (Metro) projects in development that are catered more to the mobile space. We're pretty excited about Windows 8 based phones and tablets. A lot of our desktop-related development will focus on making sure PC users are able to use Windows 8 as a high powered workstation OS. Windows 8 really is significantly better than Windows 7 in most respects. The big problem with Windows 8 is the design -- the decision to treat the desktop as some sort of legacy box. Most Windows users will continue to be using it on a desktop PC (or laptop). I love my tablets and phone but there is a time and place for each different environment. Trying to create a one-size-fits-all solution is a mistake. Our job will be to make sure that users can use their device as best suits their personalized needs.

Do you see Stardock releasing any Metro-style applications or games for Windows 8 specifically for tablets?

Definitely. We're liking what we see in WinRT. I love my iPad, for example. But I'd be pretty irritated if MacOS suddenly forced iOS as my desktop OS. Looking at an app designed for a 10 inch screen on a 28 inch monitor is a kind of torture.

We would like to thank Brad for his time.

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