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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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RE: ugh
By damianrobertjones on 8/28/2013 8:17:41 AM , Rating: -1
Metro? What's that? Didn't they change the name to 'Modern UI'? :/

I find it quite attractive as it's not just a desktop plastered with random shortcuts everywhere

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.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner

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