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Microsoft to reboot Windows 8 to address gripes

Date

Michael Liedtke

Windows 8: Slated for an update.

Windows 8: Slated for an update.

Microsoft is retooling the latest version of its Windows operating system to address complaints and confusion that have been blamed for deepening a slump in personal computer sales.

The tune up won't be released to consumers and businesses until later this year. The changes, part of a software package given the codename "Blue", are a tacit acknowledgement of the shortcomings in Windows 8.

"Its full potential won't be realised until there are more touch devices on the market": Tami Reller, Microsoft.

"Its full potential won't be realised until there are more touch devices on the market": Tami Reller, Microsoft.

Microsoft isn't saying much about what the new Windows 8 will have, nor will it say whether it will charge for the upgrade. What the company will say is that it's responding to customer feedback in developing the update.

Windows 8 is the most radical overhaul of Microsoft's operating system since Windows 95 came out nearly two decades ago. It was revamped to embrace the types of touchscreen controls popular on smartphones and tablets, devices that are siphoning sales from the desktop and laptop PCs that have been Microsoft's traditional stronghold. Windows 8 was released with much fanfare in October, but got a lukewarm reception from consumers, seeming to befuddle as many people as it has impressed.

Research firm IDC said Windows 8 contributed to a 14 per cent decline in worldwide PC sales during the first three months of the year – the biggest year-over-year drop ever.

Meanwhile, sales of smartphones and tablet computers are booming. The biggest beneficiaries have been Apple, the maker of the iPhone and iPad, and Samsung, which sells the most devices running on Google's Android software. Google is also benefiting from Android's popularity through increased traffic to its services, creating more opportunities for the company to display ads.

By contrast, leading PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell, which primarily sell Windows-powered machines, have been mired in a financial funk that has battered their stocks and raised questions about their futures.

Despite the troubling signs, Microsoft insists it's pleased with Windows 8's performance.

The company, which is based in Redmond, Washington, says more than 100 million Windows 8 licences have been sold in the six months since the launch, up from about 60 million licences in January. The licensing volume "is in the same general ballpark", as Microsoft's previous operating system – Windows 7 – at a similar juncture of its sales cycle, according to Tami Reller, who serves as the marketing and financial chief for Microsoft's Windows business.

Although Windows 8 has matched Windows 7 sales three years ago, it looks unlikely that the new system will see progressively rising demand, as Windows 7 did, hitting 240 million sales in its first year.

Reller said Microsoft still realised changes need to be made to make Windows 8 easier to navigate and capable of taking full advantage of technology improvements that have come out since October.

"Are there things that we can do to improve the experience? Absolutely," Reller said "There is a learning curve [to Windows 8] and we can work to address that."

The company plans to anoint Blue with a different name when the update is available, which should be in time for the holiday season.

Reller said more details about Blue will be released before Microsoft holds a developers conference in San Francisco in late June. Some of Blue's features are expected to be previewed at that conference.

"I view this as a relaunch of Windows 8, finally giving everyone a fully baked version," said technology analyst Patrick Moorhead. "It has been a very rough road for Microsoft so far."

"Blue is designed to address the reasons behind slow Windows 8 adoption in business and motivate the lagging Windows XP users to update before a massive successful cyber attack or other disaster impacts that aging base," said analyst Rob Enderle at the Enderle Group.

"Blue will likely be the most important service release that Microsoft has ever made as a result."

If Blue is meant to make people more comfortable, the changes may incorporate more of the elements from earlier versions of Windows.

A common complaint has centred on the lack of a "Start" button in the Windows 8 menu.

Other critics have pined for an option that would allow the system to begin in a desktop mode suited for running applications designed for earlier versions of the operating system. Windows 8 currently starts off showing a mosaic of interactive tiles tailored for swiping through programs with a finger instead of using a computer mouse.

Blue also might make it easier to find a set of controls, known as "charms", which currently must be pulled out from the right side of a display screen.

Besides responding to customer feedback, Blue also will make Windows 8 better suited for smaller, less expensive tablets with 7- and 8-inch display screens, Reller said. She declined to say whether Microsoft intends to make smaller version of its own Surface tablets. In a conference call with analysts last month, Microsoft chief financial officer Peter Klein said the company was working with other manufacturers to make smaller tablets.

Moorhead also believes Blue will bring more built-in programs, such as a video editor and audio recorder, to Windows 8 and may also include other improvements.

One thing that Blue won't fix: the relatively small selection of mobile applications tailored for Windows 8. Reller said the Windows 8 store now has more than 60,000 apps. By contrast, there are more than 800,000 apps available for Apple's mobile's devices and nearly that many for Android devices, too. In one of the most glaring omissions on Windows 8, Facebook still hasn't designed an app to make its online social network more accessible on that system. Facebook has about 750 million mobile users.

Microsoft's decision to tweak Windows 8 so soon after its much-ballyhooed release may reinforce perceptions that the product is a flop.

Windows 8's flaws were quickly evident to analysts such as Moorhead, who believes Microsoft took some short cuts to ensure the new operating system would be ready for devices going on sale during last year's holiday shopping season. "It's like they had an aeroplane and they threw off some of the bags to make sure it could take off," Moorhead said.

Investors still believe Windows 8 will pay off for Microsoft, which gets more than half of its revenue from the sale of Windows operating systems and various software programs and services.

Reller is trying to frame the upcoming changes to Windows 8 as evidence that Microsoft is becoming more agile and nimble as it responds to a rapidly evolving technology market. Smartphones and tablets have been at the epicentre of the upheaval, diminishing the demand for PCs as more people and businesses opt for the convenience of increasingly powerful mobile devices.

Stephen Baker at NPD group said Microsoft is correctly moving to a more frequent update cycle, which is needed in the fast-paced sector.

"They've come around to what is now kind of best practice around operating systems, a significant update and upgrade every year, like what competitors like Google and Apple do," Baker said. "Creating operating systems and not doing significant management for years probably doesn't work in today's environment."

Analysts say one reason Windows 8 got off to a slow start is because there weren't enough devices designed to take advantage of the system's touchscreen features. But that is about to change as HP, Dell and other PC makers prepare to roll out a wide variety of laptops and tablets with displays that respond to touch. More than 2400 devices have now been certified to run on Windows 8, up from 2000 in January, Reller said.

Most of the touchscreen laptops will sell at prices $US50 to $US250 below the first wave of comparable machines running on Windows 8, reductions that Microsoft hopes will prod more people to check out the system.

"As we look at Windows 8, it's important to remember a lot of its full potential won't be realised until there are more touch devices on the market," Reller said.

Further reading:

All or nothing?
A guide to Windows 8
I'm terrified of Windows 8

More than the sum of its parts?

Under the bonnet of Windows 8
It's beginning to look a lot like Apple

AP/AFP

65 comments

  • For all the excuses, just give us a friggin desktop window manager.

    Commenter
    AM
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    May 08, 2013, 9:31AM
    • Windows 8 doesn't make much sense until you realise that the metro overlay is basically the start button spread over the entire screen. It becomes much more usable once you realise that. If you like the desktop then you can put your usual icons on it and just press WINDOWS + X button to bring up the main management functions at any point (control panel, cmd prompt, device manager, etc.) After that get down to business.

      Regards

      Commenter
      Peter
      Location
      Oz
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 10:25AM
    • I now have a touchscreen laptop and am starting to see the usefulness of WIN 8, which I couldn't on a non-touchscreen desktop . However, it doesn't make it good yet.

      How stupid was it to remove existing, heavily used functionality such as the Start button and program lists when there was no reason to do some. Or to use meaningless terms like "Charms" to hide the actions you are looking for? Or to neuter Metro IE by disable importing of favourites from your WIN7 version? or making apps not share information between the Desktop and Metro versions. Or to require more steps to access settings and other menus or selections that in WIN7.

      I cannot fathom why Microsoft would remove or not deliver basic capabilities that an average user could have told were important or essential. They clearly did not learn from the awful Vista experience.

      Had they not neutered WIN 8 in this way the I think it would have been an excellent, very successful product. I hope they have listened carefully to their users and restored basic functionality in the upcoming Blue release, and build on the good new abilities of WIN8.

      But if they even think of charging for it, then there will be a mass exodus. I believe customers expect Blue to be a comprehensive fix for sommething Microsoft screwed up willfully, rather and a new and better version of Windows. that's worth paying for.

      Commenter
      Foresooth
      Location
      canberra
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 10:41AM
    • @AM I agree completely. They have 90% of the old interface there. All they needed to do was put back the last 10% so that it looked and felt like both Win7 and Metro - let people choose which option they wanted it to default too. I'm sure a lot of people would have just upgraded and kept the same win7 interface when they first migrated but experimented with Metro until they got comfortable with it, especially on touchscreen computers.

      Mind boggling this went over Microsoft's head but the again this is the company that thinks selling the fully featured business capable win8 Surface laptop as a businesses tool is best done by a dressing a bunch of teens in a suits, putting them in an office and having them dance about to funky music while clicking keyboards on and off in time with the beat...........

      Commenter
      James
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 1:38PM
    • Request granted - buy a Mac!

      Commenter
      FrankM
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 3:04PM
  • When I buy a computer why should I have to pay for an operating system I loathe and don't want. Why has Microsoft got a strangle-hold on the computer market? I use Linux Mint 14 (Mint 15 coming out later this month) and I don't have these problems. Linux Mint is a clear, easy system to use - and it's free!

    Commenter
    shamtexter
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    May 08, 2013, 9:52AM
    • i used linux for a number of years and i found it to be about 95% of an operating system,too many bugs with hibernate/suspend,and the discontinuation of adobe flash on that platform led me back to windows.

      Commenter
      heath
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 10:21AM
    • heath - It's obvious that it's many years since you used Linux. Linux Mint there's no problem with Flash or hibernate. Okay it's not absolutely perfect but heck! you're not holding Windoze as a standard of perfection. Are you?

      Commenter
      shamtexter
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 11:22AM
    • As far as I know you don't have to pay for it. Court cases quite some time back settled the matter. Don't ask me what steps you need to go through but if you buy a PC with Windows installed and you don't want it then you are entitled to get that component of the purchase price refunded.

      Commenter
      Fat Charlie
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 11:38AM
    • Usually its free with a new PC. You don't get 'refunds' for freebies.

      Just install your flavour of Linux and uninstall it if it bugs you so much.

      Commenter
      Simon
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 5:21PM

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