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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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Every version of Windows has been complained about
By jingle10 on 8/27/2013 11:28:54 PM , Rating: 2
'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'

that's the dumbest statement I have read in ages. The decrease in PC sales has little to do with Win8 and everything to do with a consumer shift to Tablets. The fact the PC market is already saturated doesn't help.

We can whinge and complain about the new interface but people want Tablets. I can't even imagine how painful it would be to be out on the go with a tablet struggling with trying to use a desktop centric OS.

By tnicks on 8/27/2013 11:55:58 PM , Rating: 3
Stop trying to make sense around here. You're absolutely right though, the amount of traffic that comes into most sites these days is heavily mobile oriented. Even as a developer, I was surprised by the numbers we've seen in our analytics. Windows had to change, people will adopt more and more mobile MS production and the desktop will become second nature to them. I really think we're looking at growing pains of an OS so engrained in culture that any computing paradigm shift would inevitably lead to resistance when it had to adapt. Jobs was praised for bold moves, which is a mindset MS must embrace, else it will fade into irrelevancy.

By Nagorak on 8/28/2013 4:48:37 AM , Rating: 2
It's simply not true that Windows had to change. It works perfectly fine for computers. The truth is they didn't have to go all in one way or the other. They could have had different UIs focused on different mediums.

There's a reason Apple didn't just put OSX on an iPhone or iPad. The needs of mobile devices, namely the fact that carrying a mouse around with you would be incredibly inconvenient, are simply different from a desktop machine.

MS screwed up by trying to force everything into the same UI. It would be perfectly fine having the touch UI as an option on a desktop or laptop, but it should only be an option. I have a hard time believing touch screens will ever end up making sense on a desktop machine. The mouse is simply a superior control mechanism most of the time. Touchscreen is great when you can't have a normal mouse, when you can it's pointless.

By johnsmith9875 on 9/4/2013 1:16:26 PM , Rating: 2
I remember when Microsoft was trying to put a desktop interface on a PDA. It was sure fun trying to drag little icons with the stylus, or select from tiny little menus.

They really don't understand products, or simply don't care.

By Nagorak on 8/28/2013 4:43:37 AM , Rating: 2
Windows 8 certainly has not helped anything though. The problem is exactly that it's a tablet/phone UI. Win8 is great to use on a mobile device, and has some value on a laptop. The problem is a touch centric-UI sucks for a desktop. Reaching over to touch your monitor from 3 feet away is ridiculous when it offers no advantage compared to using a mouse, which we've been using for going on 3 decades.

By ZorkZork on 8/28/2013 10:16:22 AM , Rating: 2
Even if you do all of that the Metro UI still sucks on a desktop or a large laptop. On a small 11" ultrabook it looks okay and on a tablet it looks nice (yes, I actually wrote that). Problem is, I DON'T WANT A TABLET OS on my desktop PC or laptop.

By Monkey's Uncle on 8/28/2013 11:15:27 AM , Rating: 1
Y'know, I didn't see a lot of complaints about Windows 7 or Windows XP.

However the complaints level of Windows 8 overshadows the complaints I have seen for Windows Vista or even Windows ME. There's a lot of hate there.

But I have to look at your statements here and put in the following:

Most people I know that have bought a PC or laptop with Win8 are either asking the manufacturer to install windows 7, are asking ME to install windows 7 for them or asking me how to fix Win 8 to get rid of that ugly (their words) metro start screen. They do not want to see it and want their Aero desktop theme. I help them as I can.

You are pointing to tablets selling more than PCs/Laptops, but I really don't see Windows-based tablets flying off the shelves. All I see really selling are Apple and Android tablets selling.

Why not this uber OS Windows 8, Hmm? Last I heard Microsoft Surface tablets haven't been selling all that well - not nearly to the level of iPads or Any Android tablet.

I don't see the decline in PC sales linked to crappy OEM windows 8 installations. When Vista was out there, laptop makers simply let you substitute Windows XP as an option. Today most Laptop/PC makers will provide you with an option to install Win 7 instead. I note also that I can still go out and buy OEM copies of Windows 7 today.

By retrospooty on 8/28/2013 12:07:57 PM , Rating: 2
" Last I heard Microsoft Surface tablets haven't been selling all that well "

Not selling well? MS lost 900 million dollars on Surface.

[Dr Evil] 9.... HUNDRED... MILLION!

Ya, great idea.

By jingle10 on 8/29/2013 8:04:31 PM , Rating: 2
I still think a lot of the hate is unjustified based on the number of people I have had tell me it is rubbish because someone else said it was. They have never tried it! Then you get those that try it for a second and don't like it because its not familiar and that's it.

In my experience, I too hated it initially but I stuck with it and with familiarity I wouldn't go back.

We have rolled out to a substantial user base and the result has been the same. No one liked it, but after a few months learning the ins and outs its now the opposite. The couple that had said the iPad was quicker and easier for a specific process discovered that in actual fact what they were trying to do was a single step in Windows 8 and 3 steps on the iPad.

They all now have a single device which is docked as a computer as needed and as a tablet the rest of the time. And two devices and two data plans for every user is a thing of the past.

"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook

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