Stardock yesterday started selling the $5 Start8, a tool that restores a Start button to the desktop of Windows 8.
The newest beta, version 0.95, is the latest in a series kicked off in March by Plymouth, Mich.-based Stardock, best known for its WindowBlinds customizing program. The utility reinstates the Start button and Start menu to the Windows 8 desktop.
Customers who pay $5 for the beta will be able to download the final version free of charge when it releases. Stardock has not named the date for finalizing Start8, but has said previously that it will ship the tool before or on Oct. 26, the retail launch date for Windows 8.
The disappearance of the Start button and Start menu -- 17-year hallmarks of Windows -- triggered criticism from long-time users when Microsoft yanked the navigational tool in favor of the tile-based Start screen in Windows 8. Users have also blasted Microsoft's decision to force Windows 8 users to the Start screen rather than let them boot directly to the traditional desktop UI.
By default, Start8 bypasses the Start screen; after users log in to Windows 8, they're dropped onto the desktop.
New features in the v. 0.95 beta range from additional configuration and personalization options and search of Control Panel apps to pinning support in Jump Lists.
Although Microsoft has blocked other Start button workarounds, Stardock's CEO, Brad Wardell, said that it would be very difficult for the Redmond, Wash. giant to do the same with Start8.
"The reason Microsoft can't easily break us, but could [break] the other programs is that [those other programs] relied on a registry switch to do it, which Microsoft removed," said Wardell in an email reply to questions Wednesday. "We don't rely on that. We are a start-up service."
As Wardell noted, there are other tools that do many of the same things as Start8. The free, open-source Classic Shell, for instance, also restores a Start button to Windows 8 and lets users boot straight to the desktop.
A free 30-day trial of the Start8 beta can be downloaded from Stardock's website. Alternately, users can purchase the tool now from Stardock.
Not surprisingly, Start8 is not available through Microsoft's Windows Store, the curated app store that launched earlier this month.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.