Microsoft might be confident that its forthcoming Windows 8.1 updates will be enough to satisfy the legions of critics who’ve made a hobby out of bashing its latest OS, it seems that the world’s largest PC maker is less convinced.
Fact is, as good as Microsoft’s planned updates might sound (bringing back the Start button, booting to desktop etc), they’re still not entirely what users have been asking for. Users want a ‘real’ start menu, not some silly gimmick that Microsoft is talking about, and now Lenovo, which recently surpassed HP as the world’s top PC maker, is happy to oblige them. The Chinese firm has just announced that as of today, all new Lenovo PCs running Windows 8.1 will ship with something called the Pokki app, which is software that serves as an alternative Windows application marketplace and Start Button replacement.
The big difference with Pokki is that unlike the regular Windows OS, it actually includes a ‘real’ start button and menu, not the fake thing that Microsoft is selling us with its new update. This should be seen as a bonus for dozens of unhappy Windows 8 users, but more worryingly for Microsoft is that Pokki comes with a second feature that could be far more damaging – its own marketplace that allows users to bypass the much maligned Windows Store to download their apps.
Pokki will start shipping with Lenovo’s IdeaPad and IdeaCenter devices, before being adopted by its business-class ThinkPad line in the future.
The app, which is already available on Acer machines and can be downloaded by anyone, appears where the Start Button should be, and looks like a small acorn-shaped icon. Clicking on this icon brings up the Pokki start menu, which comes with your traditional links to ‘My Documents’, ‘Computer’, ‘Music’ and so on, a search box, along with your most recent/favorite apps. In other words, your quintessential start menu has returned ;)
Pokki is in contrast to the Windows 8.1 Start button, which isn’t really a Start Button at all – all it does is to bring a start icon that only appears when you hover the mouse over the button left-hand corner where the start button used to be. But once you click on it, you’ll be in for a big disappointment – you won’t see the old start menu, as instead it throws up a rather boring task switcher that allows you to flip between the silly tile start screen and whatever apps you have running. All in all, the ‘new’ Start Button seems to be quite worthless, as Windows 8 already gives us several ways of doing just that anyhow.
Pokki’s start button isn’t the only thing it has going for it that’s usurped Windows 8.1. More interesting is its app store, which allows users to download more than four million available desktop apps, including Gmail, Amazon, Twitter, Pinterest, Spotify and others. This could well be appealing, considering that the Windows Store lacks dozens of popular apps that people want – for example, ‘real’ YouTube and Facebook apps, Instagram, Pandora, Vine and so on. Recently, one study suggested that the Windows Store is missing as many as 46% of the most popular apps currently available on iOS, and what’s worse is that even the ones that are available are often lacking the same features as their Android and iOS equivalents.
What with desktop apps being far more powerful than the average Windows 8 app, the real danger for Microsoft is that Lenovo PC users will simply start bypassing the Windows Store altogether, using Pokki to grab desktop variants instead. This, added to Microsoft’s failure to come up with a proper start menu, could mean that Pokki ends up causing it some serious headaches.