Lenovo Turns to a Startup to Bring the Start Menu Back to Windows

Microsoft Corp.'s Windows sales are being besieged by poor demand for PCs, reflected in five consecutive quarters of declining shipments, which researcher IDC predicts will be the worst annual drop on record. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Lots of people were irked to discover that Windows 8 lacks a Start menu . Not content to wait and see whether Microsoft ever comes around, Lenovo Group is adding the feature back on its computers.

The world's biggest PC maker will pre-install SweetLabs' Pokki software, which provides a replacement for the dearly departed Windows Start menu. Lenovo computers bundled with Pokki will begin to hit stores in the next several weeks, starting with English-speaking countries, and eventually to all of the computers that the Chinese computer giant sells globally, said Chester Ng, the co-founder and chief marketing officer at SweetLabs.

SweetLabs has been distributing the software on its own through its website, and more than 3 million Windows 8 users have downloaded it. The average user opens it 10 times a day, Ng said. The software also includes an app store, which competes with Microsoft's Windows Store.

When details started leaking out before the release of Windows 8 that Microsoft might scrap the iconic Start button and menu, SweetLabs scrabbled to develop an alternative. The startup, which is backed by Intel Capital and Google Ventures, was ready to release Pokki when Windows 8 went on sale in October.

After a speech Ng gave at an Intel Capital conference, he was approached by representatives from Lenovo about working together. SweetLabs is now in talks with other computer makers on similar deals, he said.

In addition to easing customers' transition to Windows 8, Lenovo may have another incentive for using Pokki: cold, hard cash. Zynga and other app vendors pay for prominent placement in the app store, and the startup will share the wealth with Lenovo, Ng said. "We make the user experience better and help them make more money," he said.

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