The Windows 8 start screen has been perceived as being so much of a nuisance that it has become somewhat common for IT professionals to jump through hoops just to force Windows 8 to boot into the more familiar desktop mode.
With the release of Windows 8.1, Microsoft has set out to appease those who despised the original Windows 8 release by making the transition between the start screen and desktop mode a lot less jarring.
One of the new capabilities that will be built into the operating system is a native mechanism that will allow Windows to be booted directly into desktop mode. Is that a practical solution?
Even though Microsoft might prefer that we all use the Start screen (it is the default after all), they have made it easy to use the Boot to Desktop feature. If Microsoft wanted to discourage customers from booting to the desktop, they probably would have implemented a feature in a way that required modifying the boot configuration file or perhaps entering an obscure PowerShell command. Microsoft did not do this.
Instead, it is not only possible to enable Boot to Desktop through the GUI, but Microsoft has even given us two different ways to do so. For stand-alone machines, the Boot to Desktop feature can be enabled by selecting a simple checkbox on the Taskbar and Navigation Properties screen. In corporate environments, there is a group policy setting that can be enabled in order to allow desktop booting on an organization wide basis.
Thankfully, Microsoft has made it easy to enable the Boot to Desktop feature. I think it is also worth considering the practicality of the end-user experience. Are users better off booting directly to the desktop, or is it better to allow them to continue booting into the start screen?
I will be the first to admit that there are about a million different schools of thought on this topic, and I don't think that there is any such thing as a universally right or wrong answer. Having said that, let's take an objective look at the practicality of the end-user experience when the Boot to Desktop feature is used.
The advantages of allowing end-users to boot straight to the desktop are fairly obvious. The user is immediately taken into an environment that is a lot more like what they have been using for many years. Sure the Start menu has been replaced by a Start button, but there are third-party utilities that can be put into place to give the end-user is the full blown Windows 7 experience.
The primary disadvantage to allowing users to boot to the desktop is that some users have already gotten used to the Windows 8 interface. Some of the early adopters of Windows 8.1 have indicated that they have tried to boot to the desktop, but catch themselves almost immediately switching to the Start screen so that they can launch applications.
Although I think that this is a perfectly valid point, it is also worth noting that application icons can easily be pinned to the desktop. Those who may not like desktop clutter can even configure applications to automatically start at login.
Given the investment that Microsoft has made in the Windows 8 Start screen and in modern apps, I don't think that the Start screen will be going away anytime soon. I think that the days of a desktop only environment are over (at least in the world of Windows). Even so, I don't think that it is any accident that having the ability to boot straight into the desktop was one of Microsoft's most requested features for Windows 8.1. There are plenty of PC users who simply do not need the Windows Start screen at this time. For those users, having the ability to boot straight to the Windows desktop will be a very welcome change.