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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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Let Windows be Windows
By YearOfTheDingo on 8/28/2013 4:51:49 AM , Rating: 3
I love my Windows phone and have given thought to buying a Surface tablet (waiting for price to fall). But I just can't stand using Windows 8. It's the wrong interface for the situation. A multi-window GUI is just so much superior when you have a mouse and keyboard. Unless Microsoft fully restores it I'm sticking with Windows 7 for the foreseeable future.

Why can't people at Microsoft understand that they can have multiple great products? Why does every innovation have to get tossed into Windows? If I were the new CEO at Microsoft, the first thing I would do is come up with a new name for the software platform, so that Windows only refers to the product itself--an OS for personal computer. That clears up thinking within the company and the messaging to the public. The mobile phone and ARM tablet OS should get its own brand: Surface. The OS for Intel tablet would be Windows + Surface.

RE: Let Windows be Windows
By inighthawki on 8/28/2013 11:24:03 AM , Rating: 3
Windows 8 still has a desktop, and thus 'multi-window gui'. Not sure what exactly you are getting at...

RE: Let Windows be Windows
By YearOfTheDingo on 8/29/2013 12:15:28 PM , Rating: 2
But one is liable to be suddenly yanked out of that environment. The OS is Windows. Every app ought to sit in a window that I can move around. I don't like apps take hijack my whole screen.

RE: Let Windows be Windows
By Moishe on 8/30/2013 2:27:34 PM , Rating: 2
I had a Surface RT for about 9 months... It's really a good device. I know that's hard to believe, but the Modern UI interface in Windows 8 is great for tablets. It needs some tweaks, but it works well and is intuitive.

But for the desktop? BAD IDEA.

I think that's where MS failed. mobile OS and desktop OS can and should have different input and output devices, and that's why they should be separate at least in the presentation layer.

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

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