Upgrade, Downgrade: Pokki Offers Windows 8 Users a Familiar Menu

Next week, Microsoft is scheduled to officially kick off its marketing campaign for Windows 8, described as the most radical overhaul of the PC operating system since Bill Gates persuaded Mick Jagger to let him use “Start Me Up” to promote Windows 95.

Microsoft obviously has a lot riding on its new tile-like startup display, but it also could be a defining moment for SweetLabs, a little San Diego startup that developed Pokki, a platform that’s intended to make programs for Windows PCs look and behave more like mobile apps. The company has designed its Pokki for Windows 8 to help old-fashioned users sing, or maybe just hum, “The Way We Were.”

Chester Ng, SweetLabs’ co-founder and chief marketing officer, calls the Windows 8 version of Pokki a bridge for users who are transitioning to the new OS, but still want to keep that familiar Microsoft Start Menu handy. The app offers some of the same core functionality, making it a little easier for users to search their computer, launch programs, change settings, and shut down the PC.

“This is our job. This is our time, our moment,” Ng said during a phone interview. “This is what we built our company for.”

It also helps explain why SweetLabs was able to raise $13 million in a Series C round of funding from Intel Capital, Google Ventures, and Bessemer Venture Partners just over a year ago. They saw this one coming.

The company, founded four years ago in downtown San Diego, has grown to 60 employees (including a team in Seattle led by co-founder and CTO Mark Chweh). Most of the founders had worked together at San Diego’s DivX (now part of Rovi), and raised their initial funding from Bessemer, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, and a group of individual investors that includes DivX co-founder Jordan Greenhall, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and Photobucket co-founder Alex Welch.

SweetLabs says its Pokki platform has surpassed 2 million monthly active users—double the number of people who were regularly using the Pokki ensemble of apps and games in September.

SweetLabs designed Pokki to let users start programs directly from a task bar, even Web-based apps like Gmail that would normally require opening a browser. Right-clicking on Pokki’s acorn icon opens a menu with a familiar-looking list of Favorites, All Programs, and Control Panel. Clicking on All Programs brings you to all the application folders and programs installed on your PC. SweetLabs initially developed Pokki as a free download for the Windows 7 operating system, and also offers free versions for Windows Vista and Windows XP as well.

Pokki, Windows 8

Pokki for Windows 8 favorites menu

SweetLabs has not yet laid out its plans for making money. The company first wants to build a significant Pokki user base. Ng says the company could sell virtual goods through the Pokki app store for games like Angry Birds and monetize its app recommendation service

Beyond the Start Menu functionality, SweetLabs says the Pokki Menu includes a centralized notification center, a smartphone-like home screen for organizing apps, sites, files, folders, and access to hundreds of free Pokki apps. The Pokki for Windows 8 beta is available for free download here.


Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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