Microsoft touching up Windows 8 to address gripes (Update)

May 07, 2013 by Michael Liedtke
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gives his presentation at the launch of Microsoft Windows 8, in New York, in this Oct. 25, 2012 file photo. 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 announced Tuesday May 7, 2013 won't be released to consumers and businesses until later this year. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

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 announced Tuesday 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 acknowledgment of the shortcomings in Windows 8, a radical overhaul of Microsoft Corp.'s ubiquitous operating system.

With the makeover it released last October, Microsoft hoped to play a more prominent role in the growing mobile device market while still maintaining its dominance in PCs. But Windows 8's design, which emphasizes interactive tiles and touch controls, seems to have befuddled as many people as it has impressed. One leading research firm, International Data Corp., says Windows 8 contributed to a 14 percent 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 Inc., the maker of the iPhone and iPad, and Samsung Electronics Co., which sells the most devices running on Google Inc.'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 Co. and Dell Inc., 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 licenses have been sold so far, up from about 60 million licenses 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.

In an interview, Reller said Microsoft still realized 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."

For now, Microsoft isn't saying what kind of changes will be introduced with the release of Blue, which the company plans to anoint with a different name when the update is available. Microsoft also isn't saying whether it will charge existing owners of Windows 8 devices to get the fixes in Blue. The company plans to release Blue 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."

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 centered 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" in Windows 8's parlance—that 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 Inc. 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 airplane 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. The company's stock slipped 40 cents to $33.35 in Tuesday's afternoon trading, leaving the shares with a 20 percent gain since Windows 8 went on sale. That outstrips the 15 percent increase in the Standard & Poor's 500 index during the same stretch.

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 tablet computers have been at the epicenter of the upheaval, diminishing the demand for PCs as more people and businesses opt for the convenience of increasingly powerful mobile devices.

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 touch-screen 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 2,400 devices have now been certified to run on Windows 8, up from 2,000 in January, Reller said.

Most of the touch-screen laptops will sell at prices $50 to $250 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 realized until there are more touch devices on the market," Reller said.

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User comments : 23

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MIBO
3.3 / 5 (7) May 07, 2013
About time they changed it, tile based interfaces are totally inappropriate for many users who operate with multiple applications simultaneously.
The biggest weakness of Windows8 is the removal of the start button. Running HW / SW development tools I often have over 100 windows open simultaneously with typically 10 or more carefully arranged for the context I'm working in at the time, and getting to the desktop to start new applications is completely impractical so I rely very heavily on the taskbar and start button, Windows 8 tile based interface is completely hopeless for my needs.
Microsoft themselves admitted that I was better of sticking with Windows 7.
alfie_null
3.7 / 5 (6) May 07, 2013
OK, so they're working on the reasons I wouldn't want to purchase Windows 8. Now, how about some reasons why I would want to purchase it?

Competing against free is hard.
Doug_Huffman
1.9 / 5 (9) May 07, 2013
Too late. M$ Windo-ooze is gone from my computer and linux Fedora 18 working fine.
jwillis84
1.5 / 5 (8) May 07, 2013
Microsoft should stick to its knitting and leave the mobile market to Android. As Android is over a 1 billion dollar licensing business for Microsoft.. why mess with success? Release iOS and Android version of Office and rake in the cash. Capitalize on the desktop and old school paradigms "while you can" the baby boomer generation will be here for quite some time. Then buy smaller firms like Apple and Samsung playing to the smaller markets.
EyeNStein
1.9 / 5 (11) May 07, 2013
The new version has an enlarged "waste paper basket" icon which the operating system throws itself into while downloading an enhanced version of Win7 to replace it.
evropej
2.5 / 5 (11) May 07, 2013
I told you so. The market spoke up and they finally heard through the financial statements. They love losing market share year after year. First with Vista, now with Winfail 8. This is what happens when you listen to your marketing team instead of your end users. Removing functionality and compatibility is not called an upgrade.
Eikka
3 / 5 (6) May 07, 2013
I still don't want to poke my laptop screen with a finger because it gets dirty and scratchy.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (7) May 07, 2013
They are calling their next release, Windows Blue. I guess the joke is still on us.
Szkeptik
4.2 / 5 (5) May 07, 2013
This is what they get for making an operating system that is fully tailored for touchscreens and selling it as a desktop OS.
VendicarE
4 / 5 (4) May 07, 2013
Microsoft offered me an upgrade to W8 for something like 15 bucks.

I declined.

No wonder their OS profits are way down.
rwinners
1.4 / 5 (5) May 08, 2013
Will the 'upgrade' be free to current owners of W8?
Code_Warrior
3 / 5 (3) May 11, 2013
Typical M$. Make the product 80% operable in order to hit a launch date, then mop up the remaining 20% with service packs.

Another thing, calling controls "Charms" is just irritating.
ValeriaT
1.3 / 5 (7) May 11, 2013
Will the 'upgrade' be free to current owners of W8?
Actually mandatory, I'm afraid. You will lose the access to functionality of Windows gradually, if you will not apply the patch.
Make the product 80% operable in order to hit a launch date, then mop up the remaining 20% with service packs.
IMO Microsoft just tested the willingness of Windows users to accept changes in user interface. MS already announced the shift to the upgrading philosophy of Linux, i.e. the new patches may actually add new functionality (and to remove existing one) continuously. Which is actually nothing special for users, who had chosen the system by its alleged functionality and demands in the time of buying.
DirtySquirties
1 / 5 (10) May 12, 2013
If all those whiners managed to bring the start button back I will be furious. I do not want to be stuck with a huge ugly button making a poopy mess of the task bar anymore. None of those whiny poop eaters have any intention of buying Windows 8, they just want to find the dumbest excuses to explain why they won't.

And FYI, for those of you dolts complaining about the start button, you are complaining about what is the EXACT same mouse movement to get to the start menu since 1995. Grow up.
VendicarE
5 / 5 (3) May 12, 2013
"Another thing, calling controls "Charms" is just irritating." - CodeWarrior

No... It is insulting and patronizing.

But that is what you get when you hire a Carnival Barker as a CEO.
VendicarE
4 / 5 (4) May 12, 2013
"Grow up."-Dirty

GUI features should not have to be "discovered".

If they must be, then it is design failure.
jwillis84
1 / 5 (5) May 12, 2013
What's the matter with "Secret Societies" and "Secret Hand shakes" the Illuminati love to monopolize the "Cool" end of the pool.

We should hide everything and "dare" our customers to buy the Unknown.

After all if it was good enough for Wordstar.. its good enough for us... except.. oh wait.. they went out of business.

Well darn it this is only a temp job anyway.. we'll evolve the platform into something better and only let beta testers look at it.
jwillis84
2.3 / 5 (6) May 12, 2013
Seriously, the old paradigm practiced a time honored tradition "quite literally" Thousands of years old.

Map the Unknown to the Known.

The Unfamiliar to the familiar.

The desktop to a desktop.

We've had navigational charts and maps for thousands of years.. what is so hard to get about that?

Its merely bratty stubbornness to say "I know how.. You don't know how.. Get over it."

Its infantile childishness to say in public "I'm not stubborn, I'm principled" do you know how many 3 year olds are saying that now?

This is Microsoft's Apple Maps debacle.. they would do better to learn from their brethren and make a public apology.. rather than start another Mojavi experiment.

I'd buy multiple copies immediately if they showed the slightest "Clue" that they made a mistake, rather than a churlish retort.

I will however promise to abstain from Microsoft Windows 8 and move over to Linux or Apple if it continues to waste my time.

And this has nothing to do with Mobile vs Desktop -- Nothing
MIBO
1 / 5 (6) May 13, 2013
The concept of a "desktop" is out of date and will increasingly become so as we start to interact with computers in different ways, e.g. voice activation. The goal should be to make things simple to use regardless of the end users preferred method of interface.
The start menu worked well for years but was not perfect, the taskbar is actually more useful for me but again has issues when it gets covered by an application. I'd be happy with any changes they make to enable me to access a list of active and frequently used applications without having to disturb the windows layout I have active, whether that means bringing back the start menu, adding a voice command to pop up this in a window, or even pressing a key on the keyboard. There is no reason that adding this has to detract in any way from how existing Win8 users operate.
IMHO any new version of windows should ADD to the options for controlling the device, but should never REMOVE existing options unless they are broken.
Jimee
1 / 5 (5) May 16, 2013
Windows 8 is great in my opinion.
evropej
1 / 5 (5) May 16, 2013
There seems to be two types of people:
1.The type who like cool colors and eye candy in their OS
2.The type who use a PC to do actual work

But at the end of the day, the market speaks for both and told Microsoft window 8 was a big failure. This is further illuminated by the popularity of Linux and the cost of the OS.

As an end user, I ask myself two questions when upgrading an OS:
1. what do I gain
2. what do I lose

If the answer is I lose a lot and gain nothing, then to a person with an IQ of a 5 years old is simple, don't. The latest is not always the greatest. Change is not always good. The grass is not always greener on the other side. Etc, etc, etc.
jwillis84
1.8 / 5 (5) May 16, 2013
Breathing is "Out of Date"

Eating is "Out of Date"

Living is "Out of Date"

Dying is "Out of Date"

Just because you can quote a phrase doesn't make it useful or true. It just makes it syntactically correct.

When you get up tomorrow will clothes be optional? Or will they be "Out of date"?

Maps evolved from paper to digital to voice directions.. are they "Out of Date" too?

Pronostications and guesses about what will replace something does not bring it forth. If the Customer evolved this and put it forth, or sampled a beta and said "yeah" I'll start doing it that way.. that's choice.

This wasn't choice.. its was an Ultimatum with a tantrum thrown in at the last minute, fixing it so you could not put it back.. No legacy backdoors or trapdoors, no registry hacks.. banned.

Its the Childish Tantrum edition of Windows.
Neinsense99
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 08, 2013
So... it will be upgraded into Linux Mint?