Interview: Stardock's CEO tells us about their new Windows 8.1 program, Launch8

Earlier this month, Stardock celebrated its 20th anniversary. In the past two decades, the Michigan-based business has transitioned from making OS/2 programs to applications made for Windows. Stardock has made a number of popular programs for many of Microsoft's operating systems that are designed to extend the features of the OS. Stardock has also developed and/or published a number of critically acclaimed PC games such as Galactic Civilizations, Sins of a Solar Empire and many more.

In 2012, Stardock got a ton of media attention when it released the first public beta of Start8, the Windows 8 Start menu replacement for the desktop. There was an immediate demand for Start8 and Stardock has continued to release new versions of the program, along with new Windows 8 applications such as Decor8 and ModernMix, the latter of which puts Modern UI apps on the Windows 8 desktop.

Later this month, Stardock will release its latest Windows 8 application, Launch8, designed to give the Start screen an application launch bar. We got Stardock's CEO Brad Wardell to tell us more about Launch8 and also got his opinions on the release of Windows 8.1, the current state of the PC industry and more.

First, we wanted to say congratulations on Stardock's recent 20th anniversary. Looking back on the past two decades, what parts of Stardock's history are you most proud of?

There have been a lot of great times. It's really hard to narrow it down to one thing. One event I am particularly proud of was our transition from OS/2 to Windows. It's often very easy to look back at ones career and think you were just in the right place at the right time or that we just got a lucky break. But the fact that we basically had to start over from scratch in 1999 told me that the team we had put together has something special going.

In 2012 you launched both Start8 and Decor8 and in 2013 you released ModernMix, all of which were designed to close the gap in what some felt were issues with Windows 8. Did you anticipate how successful those programs would become?

Most definitely not. When we did Start8, I thought it was going to only be valid during the beta of Windows 8. I assumed they'd put the Start menu back by release. Then, when Start8 got millions of downloads (I think we're well over 10 million now) I assumed that would tell Microsoft that they should bring the Start button/menu back in 8.1. Then 8.1 comes out and they put a Start button in that sends the user back to Metro. I just don't understand Microsoft's thinking on this.

Will Stardock continue to provide updates for those three programs going forward and if so what can we expect to see in the future?

Absolutely. Start8's popularity has grown steadily and ModernMix's popularity grows at the same rate as Metro apps do. Since it appears the Metro [Start screen] environment is here to stay, we're beginning to focus more on trying to address the issues with that. That's where Launch8 comes in.

Can you give us a general idea of what Launch8 is about?

Basically it's a quick launch bar for Metro. It's a launch bar at the bottom of the Start screen that stays there when the user scrolls through the the tiles.

Why do you think Windows 8.1 needs such a app launcher program like Launch8?

Yea. Really, I would have thought that something like Launch8 would be part of Windows 8. Even iOS and Android have a launch bar below their "tile" equivalents.

When will Launch8 become available and what will its price be like?

We expect a beta by the end of this month with final release coming later this Fall. It'll be $4.99.

Now that Windows 8.1 has been released, do you think that Microsoft is on the right track or do you think more work needs to be done on the OS?

There's a lot more work that needs to be done. Microsoft needs to let desktop users work and play in the desktop part exclusively if they want and treat the Metro environment as an alternative mobile experience. I like the Start screen on my Microsoft Surface. But when I'm on a computer with a 24 inch monitor, the Start screen is not ideal.

Many believe the PC industry itself is dying as we move to a more mobile app formula and use cloud-based services. Do you and Stardock share that opinion and if so how will the company adapt to that kind of situation?

The PC market isn't dying. It's just that as we hit a point of diminishing returns on the software-side there's less incentive to get new hardware. I used to upgrade my PC every year. Today, that would seem crazy. The PC market would have declined whether there were mobile devices or not. My iPad and Surface device didn't come at the expense of purchasing a new laptop or desktop.

Does Stardock have any plans to release Windows 8.1 apps in the Windows Store?

We do.

Finally, is there anything else you wish to say about Launch8 and Stardock in general?

I think when people use it they'll conclude the same thing we did: Launch8 is a natural extension of Windows 8.

We would like to thank Brad for answering our questions!
Images via Stardock

Disclaimer: Neowin's relationship to Stardock.

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CSheep said,

It's fairly obvious that Microsoft's focus is on doing what's best for Microsoft, not what's best for its users. I'm only glad they don't have the influence anymore that they used to have (despite Office and a protracted Desktop monopoly).

Microsoft carriers a ton of influence, still. Also, Microsoft creating a unified platform UX is not best for users, how? Windows is quite a powerful OS, to not expand that to other devices is foolish. I for one, love that I can move between devices, and not loose out on a great experience, or get cheated with a limited workspace.

Launch8 seems like a complete waste of time - as far as I can see it's just a task bar for a Start screen. If you already use Start8 & boot to the desktop, you would use the task bar to launch programs.

Asik said,
Launch8 seems targeted at people not using the desktop - mobile users.

In which case they're already covered with the start screen. Put your most-used items on the left-hand side and you're sorted.

MightyJordan said,

In which case they're already covered with the start screen. Put your most-used items on the left-hand side and you're sorted.

I think you might want to use it before saying that. By your argument, Apple and Android and the Windows quick launch bar were wastes of time too.

Frogboy said,

I think you might want to use it before saying that. By your argument, Apple and Android and the Windows quick launch bar were wastes of time too.

That's also way the quick launch bar was removed as of Windows 7.

Except that it doesn't need it, of all apps I've ever seen, this is the most pointless one, an application launcher IN an application launcher, ever had a bad idea?

CSheep said,

It basically adds a 'Dock' to the Start Screen.

Like I said, an application launcher for an application launcher. Which makes sense in what universe, exactly?

The Start Screen is more than just a Launcher, and it can be very busy if you go heavy with the Live Tiles. I've wanted to be able to 'pin' a group of tiles on the Start Screen so I can scroll but that group is always visible. That functionality doesn't exist, but this offers something similar.

@Frogboy,

Will this be included in the ObjectDesktop Supscription and if we have that subscription, do we have access to the beta?

The only use for this I can see is if you have a ton of apps on your start screen and are rocking a low resolution screen. Other than that, you could just pin the same things to a group and be done with it. This only saves a second of scroll time.

I think Microsoft should hire Stardock, not for these Start Screen aversion programs, but for their experience with customizability for Windows. It would be cool to see what Stardock can do when they accept metro.

While I don't need the dock, I can see some people wanting this functionality. I don't like the limitations made on where you put tiles on the Start Screen. I can't always put them exactly where I want them. I want the Start Screen of Windows Phone 8 with the grouping ability of Windows 8.
Maybe eventually that will come, but sadly not here yet.

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