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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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Time to move on beyond 95 guys
By tnicks on 8/27/2013 11:15:20 PM , Rating: -1
I really do not understand the hate for Windows 8. I'm a software engineer, who primarily is a mac guy, works with Windows 7 in the enterprise world, and has Windows for PC gaming.

I decided to give Windows 8 a try and for the most part, I loved it. So much so, that I put it on my HTPC, which it's perfect for, when coupled with a Logitech Mini (seriously, pick one up). The biggest beef I had with Win 8 was the search bar bringing up grouped results that would sometimes appear like no results were found. This is resolved in Windows 8.1 and I couldn't be happier.

Honestly, to me, Windows 8 is a breath of fresh air from OSX, which has been feeling a bit tired in the past few renditions. Metro unifies the menus finally, something that has always irritated me when going between a mac and a pc. I can now hit the windows key, type a few letters, and open exactly what I want, just as I do in my mac. The system cold boots after post in about 2-3secs with a decent SSD. I also have no idea what the one dude is talking about who mentioned metro apps being slow. I was running my old HTPC on a dual core Intel E5300 and everything was instant. If you're running on a pc older than that, well no shit it's probably going to be slow, as with any other modern OS.

The average user is done with desktops and start menus. It's time to embrace a new UI and all we are really talking about are some apps with a unified menu, a full screen start menu, and a few gestures. it isn't nearly as radical a change as people make it out to be. MS has made a well designed, unified platform from their mobile phones, tablets, and desktops and they have a shit load of money to ride out initial resistance. Dumping their stock now I think would be short sighted.

By max_payne on 8/27/2013 11:31:05 PM , Rating: 2
Steve ? Steve Ballmer, is that you under that new nickname ?

RE: Time to move on beyond 95 guys
By ihateu3 on 8/28/2013 12:08:01 AM , Rating: 2
I guess the flop of Windows 8 must have been only targeted towards computer gurus and not included any of these "average users" you speak of that so desire this...

RE: Time to move on beyond 95 guys
By The0ne on 8/28/2013 1:29:29 AM , Rating: 2
Don't underestimate the average consumers' wants and needs. You see that first Metro screenshot? People will go out of their way to NOT use the GIANT square labeled "Desktop" or Press the Windows Key even if their life depended on it. They want the SMALL start button so live with it.

As for using the search function as you do well, that pushing the limits to DOS days and God forbid pushing consumers to the Linux world. Yikes, we wouldn't want that would we. Consumers want to hunt through the regular start menu. Consumers want to litter the desktop full of icons, mostly useless sht. The option of having virtual desktops, using the quickbar and just plain house cleaning is too much to ask for.

You sir are out of your league here. As for me, I prefer the days of DOS and 3.11 Screw all these innovations and improvements.

By pandemonium on 8/28/2013 1:43:32 AM , Rating: 1
The problem is within the established communities of PC users. We like advances and optimizations for what's already in use. Change the landscape in any major way and we're going to cry bloody murder.

I won't agree to Windows 8 being the next "bold move" that needs to happen. But I will agree to the fact a change will eventually happen, and the idea behind the layout for tiling is sound; with the merging tablet, smartphones, and PC markets. Microsoft simply pushed the format too quickly and got a lot of backlash.

I prefer my PC to remain as it is, and won't upgrade anytime soon. But you guys need to stop bashing change and those that are accepting of it just because you don't like it due to your small little quibbles. You're a poor label for the geek community and I'm ashamed to be called one with all that hate.

RE: Time to move on beyond 95 guys
By ie5x on 8/28/2013 6:48:12 AM , Rating: 1
So much so, that I put it on my HTPC, which it's perfect for

The only part I can agree with. I put it up on my Zbox Nano for fast boot. But I despise the Metro UI and configured the system to boot directly into XBMC goodness. Just couldn't justify the fugly tiles on anything other than a tablet.

"Folks that want porn can buy an Android phone." -- Steve Jobs

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