Microsoft Confirms That The Desktop Start Screen Tile Is No Longer The Default In Windows RT 8.1

Microsoft today confirmed with TechCrunch that it has made the desktop Start Screen tile non-default in Windows RT 8.1. You can return the tile to the Start Screen in any size if you wish. It also exists in the “all app view” that is new to Windows 8.1, if you don’t want it on your Start Screen at all.

Yesterday I noted that the change greatly de-emphasizes the desktop in Windows RT. This matters, as it indicates that Microsoft may be moving to an all Modern Metro future for Windows RT. Currently, the only applications you can run in desktop mode in Windows RT (any version) are Office and Internet Explorer.

Internet Explorer already has a Metro version, and Office apps are in the process of being Metro-fied. So, quickly, Microsoft will have built Metro versions of all apps that were previously desktop-dependent. This leaves the desktop with all but no raison d’être in Windows RT. In fact, aside from deep-settings work and Task Manager, it really would have essentially no use-case.

So Windows RT, starting with Windows RT 8.1, is moving away from having a bicameral Windows experience it seems, and is instead rapidly changing its form to that of a Metro-only operating system. We’re still a ways off from that, but I think the direction is plain.

Will Microsoft fully kill desktop in Windows RT? That I doubt. But it can be buried so deeply as to be, for all real purposes, over.

Here’s a Microsoft spokesperson explaining the company’s reason for the change the standard Start Screen:

“The only desktop apps without modern versions which run on RT are the Office apps: Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. In order to streamline access to them, we pinned those apps directly to the first page of Start. Clicking any of these takes you directly to that Desktop app. You can also bring up the switch list from the left edge if you have a Desktop app open and click Desktop to get back to the Desktop. If you want a Desktop tile (ala Windows RT 8.0), you can go to All Apps, and the Desktop tile is in the list of apps there. Simply right-click, or press-and-hold (with touch), and you can pin it to the main Start screen and make it as large as you want.”

For the sake of doing my job, I did go through the steps, and what Microsoft describes does work.

Will consumers give a damn that the desktop is exiting stage Windows RT? This is what I call the Microsoft Defense. It goes something like this: “Yeah, Alex, but you aren’t a normal consumer. They really won’t mind or notice at all! We have telemetry data to back this up!”

Maybe, but I think that consumers have very, very deep connections to the vanilla desktop experience of Windows. For many, it’s the only computing environment that they know. It will take quite a bit of time in Metro to get them mentally crossed over, I’d wager. Perhaps that is why Microsoft is de-emphasizing the desktop by degrees.

For now, all you need to know is that if you buy a Surface 2, expect to add back your damn desktop tile.