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Windows 8.1 will feature a start button, more mouse support, and boot-to-desktop, moves away from Metro

Late Apple, Inc. (AAPL) CEO Steven P. Jobs famously said, "People don't know what they want until you show it to them."

But for his perennial rival Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) that formula doesn't seem to be playing out well for Windows 8.  The ambitious redesign has helped steer the PC industry into its worst-ever first-quarter sales percentage drop.  Now some believe Microsoft may be returning to the more traditional Windows look-and-feel that some commentators believe was a path towards a slow death.

A big part of the problem is the complete lack of any kind of official tutorial for the average user when booting up the dramatic operating redesign for the first time.  As a result many customers who have bought Windows 8 devices simply don't understand how to use their devices (to be fair, many features in OS X, such as the application launchers are as complex or more so as Windows 8's at-times-bewildering interfaces).

Windows Blue styles
Windows 8.1 will reportedly somewhat prune back and revamp Metro's role.
[Image Source: The Verge]

Following reports that Microsoft is moving to allow users to boot to desktop and return some semblance of the Start button (albeit one that dumps users into Metro), ZDNet's Windows chief blogger Mary Jo Foley reports that Microsoft is working to remedy another major problem of Windows 8 -- poor mouse support -- with the upcoming Windows 8.1 upgrade.  She says the improvements, which will look to make the interfaces as easy to use with a mouse as with touch, may not make the release preview coming at the end of June but "still could make it into the final product."

In terms of Microsoft's dilemma, she points to a blog post that former Windows President Steven Sinofsky posted early this month.  

Sinofsky (left) shows off Microsoft Surface [Image Source: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]

Mr. Sinofsky, who masterminded both the well-received traditional upgrade, Windows 7, and the much-villainized redesign, Windows 8, writes:

If you listen to customers (and vector back to the previous path in some way: undo, product modes, multiple products/SKUs, etc.) you will probably cede the market to the new entrants or at least give them more precious time. If technology product history is any guide, pundits will declare you will be roadkill in fairly short order as you lack a strategic response. There’s a good chance your influential customers will rejoice as they can go back and do what they always did. You will then be left without an answer for what comes next for your declining usage patterns.

If you don’t listen to customers (and stick to your guns) you are going to 'alienate' folks and cede the market to someone who listens. If technology product history is any guide, pundits will declare that your new product is not resonating with the core audience. Pundits will also declare that you are stubborn and not listening to customers.

That "d-mned if you do, d-mned if you don't" dilemma appears to be what Microsoft is facing now.  Ms. Foley belives Microsoft is currently moving towards going back to Option A (returning to its previous path), but she warns that option could prove fatal to the company in the long term.

Still, she optimistically adds, "I believe Microsoft can stay its Metro-centric, touch-centric course with Windows Blue, while still making some changes that will make the OS more usable and comfortable fora bigger pool of users. While it would have been great if Windows 8 debuted this way last October, I say better late than never."

Sources: Learn By Shipping [Steven Sinofsky], ZDNet

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Jack of all trades UI, master of none
By WinstonSmith on 5/13/2013 10:54:06 AM , Rating: 1
"If you listen to customers (and vector back to the previous path in some way: undo, product modes, multiple products/SKUs, etc.) you will probably cede the market to the new entrants or at least give them more precious time."

Cede the market to new entrants because you listen to your customers!? WHAT "new entrants" seriously threaten you on the desktop? None. So, you must be talking about iOS and Android as the "new" entrants, thereby admitting that Win8 is really intended to fight in the mobile segment. Glad they fired your ignorant a**, Sinofsky.

You waited far to long to enter the mobile market and then tried to make up for it by putting a touchscreen, smartphone/tablet UI on laptops and desktops, the vast majority of them without touchscreens, with the intent of leveraging your dominance on the desktop into users accustomed to the Win8 smartphone/tablet UI, users who might then purchase a Win8 mobile device over an iOS or Android device because they were already familiar with the Win8 UI.

Excerpts from Extremetech:

Windows 8, the fat fruit of more than three years of last-gasp labor to produce an operating system that can ensure Microsoft’s continued relevancy in a touch-oriented world. With PC sales stalled, and smartphones and tablets on target to outsell PCs in the next few years, Windows 8 must succeed.

Microsoft chose the easy way out: It developed a fantastic touch-first interface — the Metro Start screen, WinRT — and slapped it on top of an updated version of Windows 7. You can see the Microsoft boardroom now: “We can have the best of both worlds!” says Steven Sinofsky. “A desktop UI to keep our current customers and stockholders happy, and a tablet UI that will crush Apple and Google.”

As consumers who actually have to interact with this crazy, cross-paradigm hodgepodge of an interface, the utter ludicrousness of this decision is plain to see. For developers and specialists, though, the problem is far worse.

It might have sounded like a good idea in the boardroom, but by shipping an operating system with an identity crisis Microsoft has put itself in an almost untenable position. Barring a miraculous intervention by third-party app developers, Windows 8 looks like it will be a jack of all trades, but master of none. On mobile, iOS and Android’s ecosystems will prevail; on desktop, Windows 7 will be hard to supplant.

In one fell swoop, Microsoft was praying that it could stitch up the mobile and desktop platforms into one neat little package; instead, I fear that Microsoft may have blown it all.

By Trisped on 5/13/2013 2:22:35 PM , Rating: 2
Microsoft was in the mobile market for years Apple and Google. As I remember they were the only real competitor to Palm back when PDAs were still new.

Microsoft's problem is not innovation, it is forcing immature innovation on everyone, rather then letting users opt in/out. Windows RT was a good idea, but the constraints applied to it should not have been applied to the x86/x64 versions of the software until all the users were comfortable with it.

By Belard on 5/15/2013 6:34:24 AM , Rating: 2
Yep... I agree. It makes sense, even a year ago.

For almost two years, I ran a Metro WP7 UI on my Android phone... its still there actually, but its a retired phone. When I got a new Android Phone 4.1x, I felt Metro was limiting... and after trying out Windows8, I didn't want to touch another MS product.

I was LOOKING to buy a WP8 phone until I USED Windows8 on the desktop. For months, I thought Win8 Metro would kick ass.. after all, we all typically use a few programs.

Then last April/May, I ran the preview - which had no problems... after 10 minutes, I was not impressed.

I kept trying to use it... YES, I can USE Metro... I don't want to. Its a crappy way of getting things done. I wiped the computer and stuck on LinuxMint, which isn't Windows, but the UI is that of a productive computer... And get this, it boots up just as fast as Windows8.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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