Fresh Windows 8, but where’s the start button?

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Many of the familiar signposts from PCs of yore are gone in Microsoft’s new software, Windows 8, like the Start button for getting to programs and the drop-down menus that list their functions. It took Mr. McCarthy several minutes just to figure out how to compose an e-mail message in Windows 8, which has a stripped-down look and on-screen buttons that at times resemble the runic assembly instructions for Ikea furniture. “It made me feel like the biggest amateur computer user ever,” said Mr. McCarthy, 59, a copywriter in New York. Windows, which has more than a billion users around the world, is getting a radical makeover, a rare move for a product with such vast reach. The new design is likely to cause some head-scratching for those who buy the latest machines when Windows 8 goes on sale this Friday.
To Microsoft and early fans of Windows 8, the software is a fresh, bold reinvention of the operating system for an era of touch-screen devices like the iPad, which are reshaping computing. Microsoft needs the software to succeed so it can restore some of its fading relevance after years of watching the likes of Apple and Google outflank it in the mobile market. To its detractors, though, Windows 8 is a renovation gone wrong, one that will needlessly force people to relearn how they use a device every bit as common as a microwave oven. Mr. Ludwig said Microsoft’s strategy was risky, but it had to do something to improve its chances in the mobile business: “Doing nothing was a strategy that was sure to fail.”
Little about the new Windows will look familiar to those who have used older versions. The Start screen, a kind of main menu, is dominated by a colorful grid of rectangles and squares that users can tap with a finger or click with a mouse to start applications. Many of these so-called live tiles constantly flicker with new information piped in from the Internet, like news headlines and Facebook photos. What is harder to find are many of the conventions that have been a part of PCs since most people began using them, like the strip of icons at the bottom of the screen for jumping between applications. The mail and calendar programs are starkly minimalist. It is as if an automaker hid the speedometer, turn signals and gear shift in its cars, and told drivers to tap their dashboards to reveal those functions. There is a more conventional “desktop” mode for running Microsoft Office and older programs, though there is no way to permanently switch to it.
Microsoft is convinced that most people will quickly become accustomed to Windows 8. But to help ease the transition, the software offers tutorials when it is first started up. And Microsoft is spending more than $500 million on a marketing campaign that is partly intended to familiarize people with the new design. Mr. Harris said the company needed to modernize Windows for the way people use computers today: “We’re not surprised people have a strong reaction to it.”