Stardock CEO talks about Start10 for Windows 10, DirectX 12 and more

In February, Stardock announced Start10, a Start menu replacement for Windows 10, after it had a massive success with its similar Start8 program for Windows 8 and 8.1. Even though Microsoft decided to add a version of the Start menu back into its latest OS, Stardock's Start10 offers users some other options, including a version that replicates the Start menu found in Windows 7 and more.

Now that Windows 10 has officially launched, we decided to go back and chat with Stardock CEO Brad Wardell to see how Start10 is doing in the marketplace. While the $4.99 program is still in beta (it will officially launch on August 12) Wardell tells us that downloads of Start10 are already generating about 2/3rds of the numbers that Start8 did in its comparative release time frame. We also chat with him about Ashes of the Singularity, an upcoming RTS game that Stardock is publishing and will be the first PC game released to support Microsoft's DirectX 12 graphics API, which launched alongside Windows 10.

First, what's the response been like to Start10 since the first public beta release in February?

Before Windows 10 was actually released, people were very skeptical about it. They had heard that Windows 10 was going to have a start menu so what was the point of Start10? Then people started actually using Windows 10, and they realized that while it's better than nothing, for people doing a lot of work on Windows, it's still flawed.

How does Start10 improve on the Windows 10 Start menu?

What we've tried to do is start from Windows 7 and then think how it would have natively evolved for Windows 10. So for examples: We put the search bar back in the start menu. I don't want to be looking at the search bar on the taskbar all the time. We also maintain the Folder metaphor in all programs. So if I'm looking for MS Office, I can open up the office folder, not sift through all the programs. While many people usually type in what they want to look for, there are plenty of programs on our computers that are hard to remember. I also think many people will find the live tiles area off putting. It feels like a big advertising area for OEMs rather than something aimed at users. Even when I first install Windows 10, I have a ton of crap in there. Can you imagine how people would have felt about Windows 7 if the Start menu started with a bunch of junk pinned to it?

Tutorial: How to remove the Live Tiles section in Windows 10 Start

Based on early sales and reactions, will there be a lot of demand for Start10?

Yes. So far sales are almost as high as Start8 was when Windows 8 first came out.

Can you be more specific?

It's about 2/3 what Start8 was at this stage. It's been somewhere between 15,000 to 20,000 a day so far, in terms of downloads. Start8 was doing closer to 20,000 to 25,000 per day at this point

Why do you think this has happened?

If I had to guess: Live tiles. People hate them. If we weren't so cheap, it wouldn't be a big deal. For $5 you can make the pain go away. That's less than a Starbucks coffee.

Does Stardock have plans for any more Windows 10 software products?

We have several in development. We have a few that makes the desktop more touch friendly than it currently is. We have another one that uses the virtual desktops in Windows 10 to allow users to switch easily between true full-screen apps.

Ashes of the Singularity

Let's talk about Stardock's games, specifically Ashes of the Singularity. Your company is publishing the sci-fi real-time strategy game from developer Oxide Games. Stardock also helped to fund the developer itself. Ashes of the Singularity will be the first PC game to support directly DirectX 12. How did that come about?

We identified some years ago that it would require both a new type of 3D engine and a new graphics API if we wanted to make a truly next generation RTS that could handle thousands of units. We wanted to be able to make strategy games that didn't involve just battles in real time but entire wars across huge areas. So we helped found Oxide Games to build that engine and began working with AMD, NVIDIA, and Microsoft to see how a next-generation API might come about.. AMD created Mantle, which demonstrated just how much performance could be gained if the graphics stack were able to utilize fully all the CPU cores. Microsoft followed up with DirectX 12. And thus we have Ashes, a game that does run well on DirectX 11 but can support much greater fidelity on DirectX 12.

How much input did you and Oxide Games have in how DirectX 12 was developed?

That's really hard to say. We worked heavily with AMD and Microsoft and just told them the kinds of things that would be really helpful. We tried to make the case that there's a whole new level of visual fidelity that current hardware was capable of. I usually used the Lord of the Rings movie example: Those huge battles could be done in real-time on a modern PC if we could just make full use of the hardware that people already have.

When do you believe we will see games taking full advantage of DirectX 12 in combination with hardware?

I suspect Ashes will be the first game that does it. And that's due out in less than a year. Others will show up I suspect in the next year or so. Some of the features are easier to update to than others. I think you'll see a lot of games get updates to support DirectX 12.

We would like to thank Brad for answering our questions, Stardock's Start10 program is currently on sale in beta for $4.99. Ashes of the Singularity is already available in alpha for people who pre-order the game via its Founder's Program for $49.99, and will be available in early Beta form later in August.

John Callaham