Stardock today released a beta version of its "Start8" utility that restores a Start button to the desktop of Windows 8.
The beta follows a series of preview versions that kicked off in March from Plymouth, Mich.-based Stardock, best known for its WindowBlinds customizing program.
Start8 reinstates the Start button and the ensuing Start menu to the Windows 8 desktop, and is free while in beta.
The disappearance of the Start button -- a 17-year veteran of Windows -- and the traditional Start menu has been one of the flashpoints between some users and Microsoft, which yanked the iconic element in favor of the tile-based Start screen. On the Windows 8 desktop, users must touch or mouse to the corners to reach the Start screen.
Brad Wardell, founder of Stardock, posted several screenshots of Start8 on his personal blog Wednesday, and noted features that include the ability to boot directly to the desktop, shutdown and restart options, and built-in search.
Computerworld downloaded and installed the beta, and confirmed that the on-by-default direct-to-desktop booting worked. After entering log-in credentials in Windows 8 RTM, or "release to manufacturing," the Start screen appeared only briefly before the traditional desktop popped up.
With the launch earlier this month of Windows 8 RTM, Microsoft blocked a popular workaround that let users boot directly to the desktop. At the time, Stardock was hesitant to confirm that Start8 would work with the finished bits from Microsoft.
Rafael Rivera, co-author of Windows 8 Secrets, a book slated for release next month, and the first to report Microsoft's blocking move, said that he was certain other workarounds would circumvent Microsoft's Start button ban. "There's always a thousand more ways to skin a cat," Rivera said.
Stardock has done just that.
Today, Stardock declined to name Start8's price when the tool reaches final form, but said that it will launch "before or with Windows 8."
Microsoft will start selling Windows 8, and its hardware partners will begin selling Windows 8-powered PCs and tablets, on Oct. 26.
The Start8 beta can be downloaded from Stardock's website; users must provide an email address to receive a link to the 2.3MB download.
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.