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Start Button, boot to desktop, tile tweaking, tutorials, and many other changes look to win back customers

It's a time of turbulence for Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), the world's largest PC operating system maker.  Amidst many struggles, Microsoft's ebullient leader Steve Ballmer announced that he will be stepping down during the next year, a somewhat unintended departure that his critics have long been clamoring for.

I. Ballmer's Bane Revisited

While Windows Vista may be Mr. Ballmer's greatest disappointment, the driving force behind his departure was arguably Windows 8.

Windows 8 started off a promising concept, but fell victim to a myriad of flaws and shortcomings, which have led to the biggest percentage drop in PC sales ever.  One major issue was the scope of the redesign -- Microsoft dropped a very new and different interface on consumers with the graphically rich "Modern UI" (aka Metro) homepage and a slew of new multi-touch gestures.  Where other similarly complex OSs such as Android include a built-in tutorial that helps teach users how to use the new UI, Windows 8 had no such tutorial.  As a result many customers wrote Windows 8 off quickly, "downgrading" to Windows 7.

Other critical flaws in Windows 8 include Microsoft's inability to enforce its intended touchscreen requirement -- a critical pillar of the optimal Windows 8 consumer experience -- and Microsoft's unwillingness to listen to customers who wanted a backup traditional Start Button/Start Menu when in Desktop Mode.

Even as Mr. Ballmer prepares his exit, his company is aiming to fix some of its Windows 8 misses with Windows 8.1.

Windows 8.1 RTmThe Start Button hovers in Windows 8.1 allowing a fast return to the Desktop Mode.  New users are now greeted with tutorials to help them learn the foreign interface in more of a friendly fashion. [Image Source: CNET]

Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT hit Release to Manufacturing (RTM) on Wednesday.  The OS will be released consumers on Oct. 18 as a free update for all Windows 8 users.

II. Windows 8.1 Aims to Turn Around Windows 8 Flop

The RTM build should pack a near complete feature set -- include the aforementioned missing tutorials and Start Button.  While not the Start Button that some consumers were hoping for, the new Start Button hovers familiarly in the lower left-hand corner, allowing you to quickly flip into and out of the Modern UI -- essentially an unrolled Start Menu -- with a click.  Windows 8.1 also restores the ability to boot to desktop -- rather than the Modern UI Homepage.

It also integrates numerous other improvements, including unified themes; new Modern UI core apps; the ability to unpin, group move, and resize tiles at will; and an improved Windows Store.

Windows 8.1 Preview
Microsoft has taken a gamble by putting the people behind Windows 8 and its mobile twin Windows Phone 8 in key positions of leadership, during the recent executive shakeup.  This is a clear testimony to the fact that while Mr. Ballmer may be being shuffled out the door, Microsoft's Board of Directors believes the company was headed in the right direction with Windows 8 and merely failed on the delivery.

Windows 7, Microsoft's greatest sales success, was born out of the ashes of the poorly received Windows Vista.  Likewise Microsoft is looking to hone the sooty carbon of Windows 8 into a diamond with Windows 8.1.  Windows 8.1 RTM is the last major milestone in that pre-release refinement process.

Source: Microsoft

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By superstition on 8/27/2013 10:12:48 PM , Rating: 4

I really hoped that Microsoft would come to its senses and jettison that nasty start screen altogether. But, no.

RE: ugh
By superstition on 8/27/2013 10:14:56 PM , Rating: 4
Office 2013 looks bad, too.

The new UI trend at Microsoft just stinks, frankly. I miss the days of Windows 95 -- when Windows didn't horrify me with its unnecessary design flourishes that are poor attempts at minimalism.

RE: ugh
By Motoman on 8/27/2013 10:59:06 PM , Rating: 2
Office 2013 looks like WordPerfect the Windows 3.11 era.

Not kidding.

RE: ugh
By vhx on 8/28/2013 1:00:30 AM , Rating: 4
From an IT business perspective it's an abomination.

No offline installer? Sure, I love having to download 2+ gig installers for each of our work stations.

Having to register the serial number to a dummy account live account? Just the feature people said was lacking.

RE: ugh
By althaz on 8/28/2013 2:53:11 AM , Rating: 2
There is an offline installer (that's how I installed it on my machine at work). At least try to know what you are talking about.

No idea what you are talking about with regards to serial number registration, that's not something you have to do with the enterprise version (which is what I use at work).

RE: ugh
By themaster08 on 8/28/2013 3:36:01 AM , Rating: 2
Regarding the serial number registration, it is required to register your serial number with a Microsoft Account for all other versions.

Many of our clients have bought Office 2013 Home and Business as this suits their needs, however we have had to create a dummy Microsoft account for each of our clients, and assign their licenses with their Microsoft Account.

A problem arises when you have more than one license assigned to the same Microsoft account. It is impossible to distinguish between the two when you go to your account to download the software, and when you have 5 or 6 licenses assigned to the same Microsoft account, it can become a real issue.

This issue persists even if you use the offline installer. It asks you to log into your Microsoft Account, and even though you've entered your license key, it gives you the same list of indistinguishable licenses to choose from.

You can't even add a note in to distinguish between these. It doesn't show the license key or even part of it. It's a complete mess.

RE: ugh
By crimson117 on 8/28/2013 11:18:34 AM , Rating: 3
Office 2013 Home and Business as this suits their needs
It is impossible to distinguish between the two when you go to your account to download the software, and when you have 5 or 6 licenses assigned to the same Microsoft account, it can become a real issue.

Sounds like it doesn't suit their needs after all. Why are you suggesting the "Home and Business" version of office to your clients when it has so many problems? Were there even worse problems with Office 365?

RE: ugh
By Monkey's Uncle on 8/28/2013 12:00:45 PM , Rating: 2
With the exception of Outlook, I have dumped MS office in favor of Libre office. Does everything I want MSOffice to do without the forced butt-ugly 'metro' theme.

Now if Libreoffice can come out with an outlook work-alike I would dump that too.

RE: ugh
By wifiwolf on 8/28/2013 2:45:36 PM , Rating: 2
you tried thunderbird?

RE: ugh
By Silver2k7 on 8/29/2013 6:50:32 AM , Rating: 2
Thinking of trying Corel office or Word Perfect :)

RE: ugh
By damianrobertjones on 8/28/2013 8:18:17 AM , Rating: 1
??? Get the iso

RE: ugh
By Florinator on 8/28/2013 11:26:18 AM , Rating: 2
What gets me though is that everyone is crying for innovation in the tech industry. And yet, when innovation happens, people cry for their old stuff back...

RE: ugh
By Monkey's Uncle on 8/28/2013 11:57:49 AM , Rating: 3
There is innovation, then there is stupidity.

I didn't see a lot of folks crying for their Windows 2000 back when XP came out. Didn't see a lot of people crying for their Vista back when Windows 7 came out.

I do see a lot of people crying for their Windows 7 back when Windows 8 came out as evidenced by Microsoft's profits and the turfing of some of the senior people key to that release.

Ballmer can say he is 'retiring' all he wants, but the fact is that it is not his idea to retire at this time.

RE: ugh
By retrospooty on 8/28/2013 12:05:47 PM , Rating: 2
"I didn't see a lot of folks crying for their Windows 2000 back when XP came out. Didn't see a lot of people crying for their Vista back when Windows 7 came out. I do see a lot of people crying for their Windows 7 back when Windows 8 came out as evidenced by Microsoft's profits and the turfing of some of the senior people key to that release."

Exactly... MS needs to release products with the same attitude they released 7 with. It seemed like they finally got it with 7, it was universally loved by nerds, IT pro's, normal people, practically everyone.

What do they do to follow it up? Throw that whole "give the customer exactly what they want" attitude out the window.

RE: ugh
By Silver2k7 on 8/29/2013 6:52:13 AM , Rating: 2
Win2000 wasn't bad used it instead of Millennium Edition.

RE: ugh
By Totally on 8/28/2013 7:15:43 PM , Rating: 3
Only when Microsoft does it, if the Modern UI was a product of Apple or some Linux distro ppl would be singing a different tune.

RE: ugh
By superstition on 8/30/2013 2:37:02 PM , Rating: 2
Some people would be. There are ideologues for all companies and platforms.

RE: ugh
By Breakfast Susej on 9/1/2013 10:59:54 AM , Rating: 2
Yet when unity came out people hated it, and made it clear. So much so that it lead to Mint becoming the top linux distro over ubuntu. And all Mint is, is Ubuntu with a classic style UI.

People will reject goofy changes despite the platform.

RE: ugh
By wallijonn on 8/29/2013 4:23:28 PM , Rating: 2
Open IE in W8. Can you even see the scroll bar? On W7/XP it's in blue. Making it gray and making it blend in with the background is advancement?

Same thing with MSO - the back ground is two dimensional - black, white, gray, purplish. Scroll bar is at least a little better than IE, but only because it is longer.

Go to metro. Open up a .PDF file. Get a list of the .PDFs. Click one and try to delete it. It can't be done. Why? Because the second you click it the file gets opened in the Preview pane. Change the file association so that Preview doesn't open and you can now delete the file.

Yes, MSO has some nice functionality - like being able to send a notice through Lync and being notified when a Lync user is contacting you, but the MSO Ribbon still stinks, no matter what app it is used on.

Those of us who use Nero to burn CDs/DVDs/ISOs will quickly learn to scorn the built in burner. If you don't chose the right option when a blank disc is inserted you will probably end up going through gyrations in figuring out how to burn a disc.

IE, upon startup, doesn't always restore the last session. And most of the time it won't allow you the option to restoe the last session since it is grayed out. So now I have to wait 30 seconds after I close IE before I can shut down my machine, in the hope that it will open correctly the next time I launch it. In W7 and XP IE works fine. Is that advancement?

Open up Reader again. Go looking for a file. You'll be hitting the "Go up" radio button a lot. Is that advancement? How is that faster than going through the explorer, where the drives and folders are on the left and the files are on the right and I can quickly scan the right pane and scroll quickly. That may be okay if one assumes that documents are only saved in the user's default locations but useless when one spans different directories, different hard discs, different CD/DVDs, different server hard disks or user containers.

That's not advancement. It's devolution, just as having to remember DOS type commands in the Metro screen.

Say you want to install a new printer, a new scanner, a new Wireless Access Point. Do you input "Printer," into a blank area of the Metro screen? "Sca" should get you to "Windows Fax and Scan". "Wir" will not get you to "Network and Sharing Centre". Don't bother typing in "NET". So basically you have to go to the Control Panel by typing in "Cont" (fewer letters will get you more choices, so "Co" will get you started. If you have to get to the Control Panel from the desktop then it makes sense to be able to go directly to the Control Panel from the desktop. A mouse is easier with scrolling menu items.

Basically I tell everyone to install "Classic Shell" and then throw install WinAero skin. It takes me a few minutes to teach them how to configure it so that it works easiest.

Going to flat icons is not an advancement when one already is pleased with 3D icons. The Metro flat tiles aren't attractive. Apple is supposedly thinking of doing the same. Guess there's not enough graphical power to draw 3D icons, or doing so takes up too much memory.

For me, IE not restoring the last open session is a killer. Having to wait until the spinning arrow stops before I can shut down is a killer. That is not innovation. 2D icons with 2D colours in 2D apps. is not innovation. It's an eye strain. Removing functions from a menu, then having to get to the Ribbon Customization so that you get them back is not innovation, not when it will take a few clicks (once you know how (hit the FILE menu button)) to be able to get to where you want. Over time many of us have become acquainted with how the Ribbon functions. Now go and try to burn a DVD... It's not really that intuitive.

Innovation for innovation's sake is not innovation. Innovation must serve a purpose. It should make it easier to complete a task. Not the other way around.

RE: ugh
By YearOfTheDingo on 8/28/2013 5:14:28 AM , Rating: 2
Metro is like Gwyneth Paltrow: it looks great in a slim package, but hideous when made ten times bigger.

RE: ugh
By damianrobertjones on 8/28/13, Rating: -1
RE: ugh
By n0b0dykn0ws on 8/28/2013 9:22:24 AM , Rating: 5
That's funny, because one of the few things that Windows 8.1 proposes to fix is the application tiles.

With Windows 8 my applications are just smeared all over the 'Modern UI' screen.

That's not ugly?

RE: ugh
By crispbp04 on 8/28/13, Rating: -1
RE: ugh
By Reclaimer77 on 8/28/2013 2:27:41 PM , Rating: 3
Totally NOT nitpicking...

RE: ugh
By Chaser on 8/28/2013 7:18:16 PM , Rating: 2
And with that insightful brilliance the world can now embrace Windows 8. "I.T. guys" your prophet has arrived.

It's a miracle! Windows 8 just works now! Hallelujah!

RE: ugh
By retrospooty on 8/29/2013 7:26:45 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, thank you... I do find that W8 works much better now that I use the term modern UI and not Metro. I am getting more respect at work too. Life is renewed.

RE: ugh
By Moishe on 8/30/2013 2:12:44 PM , Rating: 2
"random" shortcuts? Since when?

My desktop is totally useless since I put exactly what I want, where I want on it.

If they wanted to move more towards tiles, they could have just made the desktop icons capable of being "live" and different sizes and shapes.

RE: ugh
By johnsmith9875 on 9/4/2013 1:19:07 PM , Rating: 2
I find live tiles to be distracting and it makes them difficult to figure out what they exactly are. I have always wondered too if people with epilepsy could be set off by a desktop thats constantly flickering with live tiles.
Its the 2013 equivalent of blinking HTML text.

RE: ugh
By Da W on 8/28/2013 9:34:08 AM , Rating: 3
You don't have to buy it. You can stick with windows 7 for the next 7 years.

Stop buying cheap google tablets and microsoft won't feel the need to change so drasticly.

RE: ugh
By ZorkZork on 8/28/2013 10:04:42 AM , Rating: 3
I think I will do something much more simple: I'll give up on Microsoft instead - I suspect a lot of people will do the same - instead of this crazy mix of stuff that is Windows 8 then people will go for the real Android stuff. At least it is made for tablets/phones and Google Play is not a walled garden like the Windows Store.

Sticking with Windows 7 is not an option - everybody knows that once a new version of Windows is out, then the old one will get minimal support.

RE: ugh
By Da W on 8/28/2013 1:17:38 PM , Rating: 2
People worked with windows XP for 13 years you clearly have no clue of what your talking about.
It shows, thinking you can do serious stuff with a google tablet.

How can you dump microsoft products to move to android (or linux) when your complain is that Windows 8 should be more like Windows 7 cause windows 7 was perfect?????????????

RE: ugh
By ZorkZork on 8/29/2013 2:37:36 AM , Rating: 2
And how much support did XP get in the end? Security fixes only.

And while I like Windows as an OS then the UI sucks so much that I prefer the various Linux incarnations. Obviously there is a learning curve but the Linux UI is generally as good as Windows 7.

And when I want a tablet I choose one with an OS made for tablets with loads of apps and with freedom for app developers to create what they like.

Windows 8 is a very nice OS - only major problem is the look and feel of new Metro crap and its attempt to force us to the Windows Store.

RE: ugh
By Silver2k7 on 8/29/2013 6:56:55 AM , Rating: 2
For photoediting software the only viable option to Windows where *most* probably not all my software would work is Mac OS.

But Windows 7 is working fine, until Win9 or something better comes along.

RE: ugh
By Moishe on 8/30/2013 2:18:10 PM , Rating: 2
Windows 7 will be fully supported for a long time. MS has never failed in that sense, so your comment there is plain wrong.

The trick is to sit out the current windows and wait for the company to learn their errors and make one that you want. I did that with Vista and it worked great. XP was by no mean harder to use or worse than Vista. Win 7 was a great upgrade. I'll gladly wait another few years until Windows 2015+ comes out and MS has figured out how to get it right.

If you want to give up on MS, x86, and the ecosystem, that's obviously your prerogative, but it's also your pain.

I can't believe you're comparing some cheap google tablet to Windows. The differences in performance, capability, and ecosystem are quite large.

RE: ugh
By Argon18 on 8/28/2013 10:52:54 AM , Rating: 1
When the "cheap" Android tablet is better than anything from Redmond, why should folks stop buying them? The fact is, iOS and Android have won the tablet war. Microsoft, with their clunky me-too copycat product is the loser here.

RE: ugh
By kmmatney on 8/28/2013 7:01:45 PM , Rating: 2
Visual Studio 2012 also look UGLY! The sad thing is, Visual studio 2013 isn't looking any better, although they finally did add back a VS 2010 "theme".

RE: ugh
By inighthawki on 8/29/2013 11:10:08 AM , Rating: 2
VS 2012 update 2 or 3 (forget which) also adds the blue theme, just fyi.

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