Lenovo has announced that it has partnered with a software distributor to bundle a third-party Start Menu replacement with its Windows 8 computers - the first major manufacturer to cast such a vote of no-confidence on the operating system's touch-centric Modern UI.
Based on technology originally developed for smartphones as the Metro UI, Modern UI brings massive changes to the Windows platform. A shift away from the WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointer) paradigm that gave birth to the original version of the operating system, Modern UI is clearly built for touch - a move that brought Microsoft in for considerable criticism about the platform's usability on traditional computing devices.
While Windows 8.1, a free update due for release later this year, goes some way to address these concerns, it is still likely to come as a shock to less technologically literate users upgrading from a previous Windows release. In particular, the absence of a Start Menu - even if the Start Button is brought back in the pending update - means relearning how to use the operating system in the largest shift in usability since the Start Menu was first introduced in Windows NT.
While it would be facetious to blame the ongoing slowdown in traditional PC sales purely on Windows 8, the fact is that it is one of the few factors that can be easily addressed - and Lenovo is doing exactly that. The company, which is enjoying considerable success with its mobile and tablet families even as sales of its laptops and desktops decline, has entered into a partnership with SweetLabs to pre-install a Start Menu replacement on all new Windows 8 machines.
Dubbed Pokki, the software isn't a direct copy of the Start Menu of old - but it certainly shares some similarities. Clicking on the Pokki icon at the bottom-left of the screen pops up a familiar-looking menu, offering access to frequently-used applications, categorised lists, system control and free-text searching - all without having to leave the familiar Desktop environment for the scary new Start Screen.
'Our collaboration with SweetLabs strikes the perfect balance between providing our customers great apps and growing Lenovo's business around app distribution,
' claimed Peter Gaucher, executive director of software and content services at Lenovo. 'The Pokki software suite complements the Windows experience, and we're excited to work with SweetLabs to open up new distribution opportunities for app developers across our devices worldwide.
Gaucher's comments reveal a second string to Pokki's bow: the software is designed to not only provide a Windows 7-like Start Menu for access to a user's existing software, but to automatically recommend other applications for download both from the Windows Store and from SweetLabs' own distribution network. Whether this will degenerate into yet more pre-installed bloatware, recommending apps nobody in their right mind would want to install, remains to be seen.
More details on Pokki, which is also available for Windows 7 and prior, are available on the official website