Microsoft blocks Windows 8 Start button, boot-to-desktop hacks

Leaked copies of Windows 8 RTM cripple tweaks, says 'Windows 8 Secrets' author

Microsoft has blocked a popular work-around that let users boot directly to the Windows 8 desktop, a co-author of an upcoming book on the operating system confirmed today.

"Microsoft made some changes to Windows that prevent the .scf hack from working correctly," said Rafael Rivera in an email reply to questions. Rivera blogs at and along with Paul Thurrott, is the co-author of Windows 8 Secrets, a book slated for release next month.

The ".scf hack" Rivera referred to was first disclosed in April, and allowed users of Windows 8 Consumer Preview to circumvent the tile-based Start screen and automatically shift to the familiar desktop after logging on.

Well-known ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley first reported Rivera's conclusions earlier Monday. She also said other hacks, including some that restore the Start button to Windows 8, have been blocked.

The changes were made by Microsoft before it announced the Windows 8 RTM, or "release to manufacturing," milestone last week. Final copies of Windows 8 Enterprise leaked to file-sharing websites a day later.

Although previews of Windows 8 could be modified to insert a homemade Start button and with more work, bypass the Start screen at log on, Microsoft has invalidated those work-arounds in the RTM build, said Rivera.

The change wasn't a surprise: In May, Thurrott said Microsoft had been "furiously ripping out legacy code" in the new operating system to prevent users from adding a Start button or booting straight to the desktop.

Microsoft pulled the Start button from Windows 8 before it shipped the Consumer Preview in late February. The Release Preview, which debuted in late May, also omitted the 17-year-old iconic user interface (UI) element.

The lack of the familiar Start button and the inability to sidestep the new Start screen -- two separate, but intertwined issues -- have been sore spots among long-time Windows users, and among the reasons why some research firms have predicted businesses will be slow to adopt the new OS.

Start8, a free tool released in March by StarDock, may still work in Windows 8 RTM, Foley reported. Start8 adds a Start button to the Windows desktop and optionally allowed users to skip the Start screen at log on.

StarDock was unable Monday to confirm that Start8 works on Windows 8 RTM, however, as legitimate copies are still a week away from release to developers, IT professionals and enterprises.

"The program should work, unless capability for it to function was intentionally stripped away," a StarDock spokeswoman said in an email reply to questions. "We're definitely excited to test with the RTM build and the new Start8 features we've been developing internally."

Instead of a Start button, Windows 8 uses a "hot corner" at the lower left. When that hotspot is touched or clicked, the interface switches from the traditional desktop UI to the tile-centric environment, or vice versa. At boot, Windows 8 presents a log on screen where the user must enter a Windows ID; at that point, the Start screen appears.

But Rivera hinted that other tweaks may be able to skirt Microsoft's lock-down.

"There's always a thousand more ways to skin a cat," he said.

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

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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