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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 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.


"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov














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