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Lenovo gives Windows 8 vote of no confidence by bundling Start menu stand-in

Gregg Keizer | Aug. 23, 2013
Emphasizes the traditional Windows desktop over the Metro UI with Pokki Start button, Start menu and alternative app store

Lenovo, the world's largest computer maker, announced today that its Windows 8 PCs will come bundled with the Pokki Start button and menu replacement, along with its desktop mode-oriented app store.

The pre-loading will kick off with Lenovo's consumer notebooks and desktops, including IdeaPad and ThinkPad laptops, and IdeaCentre desktops, Lenovo said.

It was San Diego-based SweetLabs' biggest deal yet with a PC OEM (original equipment manufacturer), and followed a smaller-scale bundling arrangement the two-year-old privately-held company struck with Acer earlier this summer. SweetLabs is the maker and publisher of Pokki.

Lenovo's decision to add the Pokki Start button and menu to Windows 8 was a thumb in the eye to Microsoft, which while initially resisting calls to restore the iconic user interface (UI) components, gave way to the return of a Start button-like UI element in Windows 8.1, the update slated to hit the Windows Store Oct. 17.

But Microsoft drew the line at restoring the Start menu. Instead, the new Start-style button in Windows 8.1 simply steers users to the tile-based, touch-first Start screen.

"We're not trying to compete with Microsoft," said Chester Ng, co-founder and chief marketing officer of SweetLabs, in an interview Thursday. "We just want to improve the Windows 8 experience, help where we can and fill any holes."

Ng acknowledged, however, that if Microsoft had not departed from an 18-year tradition by ditching the Start button and menu, there would have been no need for the replacements that SweetLabs and others, such as Stardock, offer.

That Lenovo gave Windows 8 a vote of no confidence by striking the deal with SweetLabs was no surprise: Microsoft's newest operating system has failed to boost flagging PC sales. OEMs of all kinds and sizes, including Microsoft itself, are trying almost everything, including deep discounts, touch-ready devices and radical hybrids that mutate from notebook to tablet and back, to get consumers to buy PCs rather than tablets or smartphones.

Along with the Start button replacement for Windows 8, Pokki on Lenovo PCs will include the package's app organizer and launcher, dubbed "Pokki Menu," and an app store.

Pokki Menu lets users organize apps much like on a smartphone or tablet screen by dragging and dropping; those apps can be launched directly from the menu.

Its app store features x86 desktop applications, the kind that run on the traditional Windows desktop UI, as well as apps designed for the Pokki platform. In the near future, the store will also be able to recommend and direct Lenovo PC owners to Microsoft's Windows Store for acquiring the touch-enabled programs once pegged with "Metro," but now generally referred to as "Modern" or "Windows 8 Store" apps.


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