I have yet to try the new release preview as I just got home and will be downloading it. On the release preview I will comment on later. But to address this discussion and in particular your questions I will say I speak for myself only and I do not represent anyone. I don't hate the fact that the start menu is gone there just is no suitable replacement and while I get the metro start is supposed to be the "replacement" I do not find it a good idea to have to go into metro to do the same things that should be found in the desktop. I do use it but I will not say it represents ALL my functions on a desktop. I use it mainly to close the computer where the charm bar is in the way while working on something the start menu only pops up when I actually want it to. I use it to search and it's much easier because after I search I'm already in the desktop unlike when I search in metro I have to go there only to go back into the desktop for whatever it is that I'm searching that is. Also for me right clicking on a corner that has the screenshot and "apps open listing" appear after I hover is quit annoying and much less efficient. Using the start menu I can get to things much faster and I don't need the extra right click. Also programs that I might not have pinned that I use semi-frequently I have access to right away even if I don't go into the programs panel. The process is the same as going into the metro start and opening a program in the list however I wouldn't have to go through the list since it mixes every program I have installed and using the start menu would allow me to stay in the desktop environment as so far there is nothing beside for entertainment that I would need to use the metro for. Yes you can configure metro start to go to your control panel and such but that's the opposite of what you would want. Some say that's called learning your system and I call it working around it. If they wanted to make it easier they would have made it something that is already configured. I'm not saying you can't figure it out but I'm just saying you shouldn't have to. If you had to do more just to get the same end result it doesn't make sense for the start screen to be the answer to the lack of a start button. Also my biggest issue is that I just don't want to go into the metro at all if my work will be focused in the desktop. So in a short note I'm not entirely upset at the removal of the start menu but just that if they were going to remove it I would have expected. something better as a solution and that is not in a different environment which is what I consider the metro start(mobile environment)
Regarding the desktop UI I don't mind them keeping it relatively the same I as long as it works and if they need to add stuff it should work better. Windows 7 was indeed similar to vista but it also had much needed improvements that SHOULD have been on vista. The problem they need to tackle here is the same thing added useful features. Ribbon is a cluttered UI it in fact may add benefits I don't know of any since bringing forth the features will not give any user the sense of actually knowing what the use of it is. Also it goes against their metro philosophy of minimalism. It is clashing with metro if anything. There are so many people that have used photoshop that can not grasp the tools even though they are right in front of them. The desktop could use adjustments to make it visually more appealing and if they are going to go with the whole metro theme they should still retain depth because with all the windows and such inside the desktop complete flatness will never work, it will just make things confusing. Basically the desktop is not bad but they could add more useful features such as the LONG overdue pin to taskbar feature in windows 7 that would help the user more or fix the desktop UI they can tone down the aero but if they are going to replace it they need a much more convincing UI and they have yet to achieve it.
Metro is nice in idea but their execution has been lacking so far. I don't hate their idea. In fact I love the idea of being minimal because sometimes minimalism is good but it is all in the execution. Vista should have never focused on just the UI but the UI wasn't even that great plus there wasn't enough good features to warrant all the focus on the looks because in all the time it took between XP and Vista it was a half-baked effort. Not all the UI that we have now are just visual fluff there is a reason to the need to have some depth because it makes things legible and distinguishable especially in an environment where things are in motion. The problem with microsoft's metro execution is they failed on delivering their own important points of their design philosophy(which is similar to design philosophy in general) their typography is questionable and in some instances illegible. If the background is too busy their text is hard to read. Legibility and typography are important. You cannot see much difference between two tiles and their theory that the tiles are better than icons is odd because tiles are basically oversized icons. While in some instances the content being the important factor is good such as media consumption sending an email you want to be sure that you know how to use the buttons(the user-interface) and some buttons give no visual cues. While the interface and visual but not seem important but they are to effectively communicate a product. Metro in windows 8 is minimal but not in a way that works in the computing world of desktop or the content that it displays. If anything the elements clash with the content. There are many ways to be minimal but still keep some effects for when it's needed. The flat in metro doesn't work in all situations especially if there are things in motion or when the stuff behind or around are busy looking. Some things just look like there wasn't even much thought put into it although I'm sure there were such as the buttons that are basically words with borders around it it just doesn't look that nice. Also the metro design doesn't look as nice when working in a vertical view. Short version is that metro is minimalism done wrong and just doesn't work that well because it is basically flat without much depth or lacking in effects in instances when it could use it for function if not visual benefits. Just look at the design of the scroll bar they have now when you use the mouse in the desktop or metro environment, hideous.
Touch is the future and I don't think everyone disagrees. I like touch for entertainment and basic tasks but I would never do my design work or typing with touch. So far it has been impractical. Which is why loading directly into desktop would benefit someone like me who uses the desktop more often. Touch so far is really only for basic tasks like watching a video and looking at pictures and such I would never use it for much more than that. I would not be editing my videos or editing my photos or other stuff on a desktop. Short version Touch is useful for basic tasks but for anything that is more advanced desktop is still the way to go for now so forcing us into touch is not right as we would use it when there is such a need.