Arriving Soon: Windows 8 With No Start Button!

Adapted and Edited from Evan Koblentz, Law Technology News.
Lawyers, get ready to enter the world of Microsoft Windows 8. The upcoming successor to the Windows 7 desktop and laptop operating system is slated to ship later this year or in 2013. You may realistically see it in your law practice by 2014, some experts speculate. One of its major expected changes is the lack of a traditional “Start” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.

The former Windows Vista eliminated the actual word “Start” and just has an icon there, but Windows 8 eliminates the entire “Start” menu concept. So that button you mastered in Windows 95 and spent the past 17 years getting used to? Its days are numbered. Instead, there are two new elements.

The first new element is a transparent taskbar where all of your applications and menus reside.

Rebecca Wright, a veteran at training large firm lawyers on new technology, said the change will be significant — but that such changes are incrementally less troublesome as firms are increasingly staffed with younger, technology-savvy attorneys. “We have some new tools we can use. We try to do some just-in-time training. We can put things on your computer that say, ‘Here’s where you used to do things with the ‘Start’ button, now you do them here,'” she explained, in Richmond, Va.

Computer makers’ penchant for copying each other’s interface ideas isn’t new, which could help Wright and her trainer peers because the changes may not be completely new to users. The concept of an interface with a transparent menu bar goes back to Apple’s introduction of it as part of Mac OS X in 2002. It’s known as the “dock.”

Going back further, MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System), based on another company’s system that Microsoft licensed, became popular in 1982. It was a pretty good clone of Digital Research’s CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers) from 1975. Then, in 1992, Windows 3.1 launched. It was a decent clone of the Apple Lisa interface from 1983, which Apple itself copied from Xerox’s 1970s technology. Next came Windows 95, which was essentially Apple Macintosh 85. Now we have Windows 8 copying something that’s been mainstream for a decade. Actually, Mac OS X in 2002 copied ideas from other systems developed in 1988. Maybe that’s what the “8” in Windows 8 really indicates.

Back to the case of the missing “Start” button in Windows 8. “I’m finding more and more, attorneys that are technology-savvy have some experience with Macs. So you could use that in your training,” Wright acknowledged. However, she said speculation about 2014 installations in law firms may be too hopeful. Based on a late 2012 or 2013 Windows 8 launch, “It would probably take a couple of years to actually make that jump. I would say two or three years, maybe,” she said.

Microsoft has a habit of delaying major product launches. It’s a good possibility that Windows 8 won’t ship until the middle of 2013, which means it may not see law office desktops until 2016.

The second big change in Windows 8 is an alternative smartphone-style interface that Microsoft calls Metro. Where the “Start” button used to be, in the bottom left corner of your screen, you’ll instead find a toggle button — click or swipe it to swap between conventional and Metro’s phone-like designs. But that’s based on a definition of “phone-like” circa today, meaning what Apple launched five years ago in 2007. BigLaw counselors will be lucky to get this onto desktops nearly 10 years later.

“That’s an interesting way to go,” Wright noted. “Attorneys really have embraced smartphones. I see more and more attorneys with iPads these days. Giving them the ability to work more in that mode that they’re used to already could definitely be a benefit.”

At the least, “I think they’re more conditioned now to change … Something is always changing,” Wright added. But, she said, “I don’t think it will be as big an impact as going from DOS to Windows. That was huge.”