Download of the Week: Pokki brings back Start Menu in Windows 8

By on October 25, 2012, 1:30 PM

Windows 8’s touch-focused Metro interface has been met with quite a bit of resistance from longtime desktop users. But Microsoft’s not backing down. The company has made a risky but necessary bet to gain a strong foothold into the tablet market, and in the process it is getting rid of the familiar Start menu button.

Fortunately third-party developers have been working to keep the classic desktop experience alive with their own take on the start menu. Stardock was among the first to release their solution earlier this year, known as Start8 ($5), and since then a few other options have emerged. There’s one in particular that stands out for its sleek looks and feature set -- actually, it was born as a platform for running web applications as standalone apps on your desktop, and just recently added the core Start Menu functionality for Windows 8. Meet Pokki.

Fresh out of beta, Pokki combines search, an app launcher interface with a notification center, and its own take on the classic Start Menu offering access to programs, documents, control panel and shut down options. The app hides discretely behind a button on the lower left corner where the start button used to rest.

If the new hot corners in Windows 8 annoy you, there’s also an option to switch them off, as well as an option to boot to the desktop and skip the Windows 8 start screen altogether. 

Those features alone will be enough to lure Windows 8 updaters that don't want a touch-centric UI forced on them at all times. But Sweetlabs, the startup behind Pokki, hopes to achieve much more.

During a call with co-founder Chester Ng and marketing communications manager Alan Masarsky they told me the goal is to "modernize the PC", bringing the smartphone and tablet experience to the desktop but optimized for mouse and keyboard.

Pokki creates a runtime within your system that supports running web apps as standalone apps on your desktop. These apps are based on web standards such as HTML5, CSS and JavaScript and can be downloaded from a built-in application market that counts more than a hundred titles, including all the usual suspects such as Facebook, Gmail, Instagram (through a popular app called Instagrille), Twitter (Tweeki), as well as games like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and Plants vs. Zombies.

Pokki apps are installed in a single click and can be pinned alongside your desktop apps on the taskbar within the desktop for one-click access as well as in the Pokki app launcher. There are also mobile-like notifications and badges, so you receive real-time updates for new emails, social updates, and so on.

Pokki is free and there are no plans to charge for the app in the future, although eventually Sweetlabs hopes to monetize the platform through things like in-app payments and paid app recommendations. They claim to have 2 million active users and expect Windows 8 to contribute further to their growth. On the other side of the fence, Sweetlabs says developers are equally excited about Pokki, as they are seeing users spend 3 to 5 times more time using their games and apps on Pokki compared to their websites.

Pokki also works with Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 -- by default the Pokki menu is turned off in these operating systems, you can turn it on but it will run alongside the Windows menu, instead of replacing it. A Mac OS X version of Pokki is in development and scheduled to launch later this year.

As a side note, I obviously asked Chester for his opinion on Windows 8 and surprisingly he wasn’t as critical as I expected from reading the Pokki blog. In short, they’re excited about Windows 8 and believe Microsoft had no option but to make a move for the tablet market to stay competitive, but they realize a lot of users will be confused with the lack of a start menu and they saw an opportunity to help with the transition.

User Comments: 9

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Guest said:

They just put a "start button" to promote their apps

overall, my experience says - 'stardock' like applications are resource hog's, opens holes, and soon or later you going to reinstall the whole PC

imo, this is cos they dont have the [tools for the platform] to do the proper app they want

remember the "Start menu" for WfW 3.51? - OpenGL Screen SaverS FTW!

3 people like this | Guest said:

Windows 8 + Start Menu = Windows 7

Windows 7 - Start Menu = Windows 8

Windows 7 + 49$ = Windows 8

Windows 8 - 15 Big Mac = Windows 7

1 Start Button = 15 Big Mac

Guest said:

Now that's putting it bluntly. xD Thanks for the good laugh, much appreciated. ;)

Guest said:

When you install software, will Pokki put a shortcut on the start menu, plus folders etc ? Does it work just like an integrated start menu or are there extra steps to get it to do so ?

1 person liked this | Guest said:

This is appalling you have to install a third party software to get the features you already had previously. Microsoft is disgusting in that sense. They could have at least given the option to chose.

psycros psycros said:

"The company has made a risky but necessary bet to gain a strong foothold into the tablet market, and in the process it is getting rid of the familiar Start menu button."

LOL, what? The desktop is completely separate from the touch-centric Metro. There's no legitimate reason for the removal of such a key desktop feature. Try again.

johnehoffman said:

I agree with the previous posters. I think Microsoft made a big mistake in not giving users the option of using a Windows 7 type interface--unless there is some technical reason why that cannot be done.

Most businesses do not want to face a period of lost productivity while users learn a new interface that does not increase productivity, and many private users do not want to waste time either trying to find features in Windows 8 that they know how to find in Windows 7, especially if they have no plans to buy a Windows 8 tablet or smart phone.

With a dual interface, users would have a choice. Many would migrate to the new interface over time if and when touch sensitive monitors become more common or if they buy a Windows 8 tablet or smart phone, and get used to the new interface that way.

I don't use a tablet or smart phone. The only possible reason I can see to "upgrade" to Windows 8 is to learn the new interface so that I could help friends who may be baffled by it when they buy new computers with Windows 8 preloaded. I'm not THAT generous with my time. I will not "upgrade" my present computer, and I've bought an extra OEM copy of Windows 7 to install on the new computer I plan to build next year with the next generation Intel processor.

Windows 7 works. People are used to it. Why force customers to spend considerable time learning something new if they do not wish to do so?

Guest said:

So are links not allowed here or something? Or is this spot a paid advertisement for Pokki? Google, or Bing, your choice Classicshell

works great and free

Guest said:

It amazes me how Microsoft can get away with openly depriving users of what they want - not just removing the Start Menu, but actively fighting attempts to bring it back.

Regardless of how useful the Start Menu is - or isn't - there's a principle here of customer service which Microsoft are completely violating. They'e treating their customers - who should be the driving force behind requriements - like a bunch of school children who have to be disciplined into using something the "official way".

The slamming the have received is nothing compared to the one they deserve.

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