First reported by The Verge yesterday and then followed by other blogs -- all seemingly based on screenshots posted in a Chinese forum that claim the images are from the newest private "build" of the beta -- the Start button has been discarded in favor of a corner "hotspot" that when touched or clicked switches between the traditional desktop and the new Metro-style Start display.
Microsoft declined to comment on the reports, with a company spokeswoman saying, "We have no information to share at this time."
The Windows 8 Developer Preview, which Microsoft made available to the general public last September, includes a Start button that toggles between the new operating system's Metro Start page and the more familiar desktop.
Microsoft first used the Start button in Windows 95, when it reportedly paid the Rolling Stones millions for the rights to the band's song "Start Me Up" to use at the launch and in subsequent commercials. (Microsoft executives later disputed that, saying the company paid the Stones "a small fraction" of a widely-cited range of $8 million-$14 million.)
Windows 95 debuted in August 1995, and was marked by a dramatic overhaul of Windows 3.1's user interface.
The Verge and others based their reports on unnamed sources as well as screenshots published over the weekend on a Chinese-language forum. The screenshots claimed to be of Build 8220 of the upcoming Windows 8 public beta, which evidence hints will actually be called "Consumer Preview" rather than "Beta."
Replacing the Start button, according to the reports, will be a "hot corner" at the lower left. When that invisible hotspot is touched or clicked, the interface switches from desktop to Metro, or vice versa. That location is where the Start button currently resides in the Windows 8 Developer Preview.
Microsoft has said that Windows 8 will use a "touch-first" interface where the traditional desktop is demoted to an alternate view.
The beta -- or Consumer Preview -- of Windows 8 will be released late this month, Microsoft first said in December 2011. The company has yet to narrow the launch date, however.
The Windows 8 Developer Preview can still be downloaded from Microsoft's website.
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