If you’re an Apple enthusiast, over the age of 50 or primarily use a desktop PC, you probably weren’t one of the 100 million people who purchased a Windows 8 license after its release last October. If you are one of the 100 million people who upgraded, chances are you’ve been frustrated by the learning curve that the new operating system threw your way. From the introduction of Live Tiles and the touch screen interface to the disappearance of the Start Button and menu, Windows users have been extremely vocal about their dislike of many of the new features on Windows 8. And while 100 million new licenses has given Microsoft reason to cheer, the more than 10 percent decline in PC sales during the first quarter of 2013–which many people are directly attributing to the shortcomings of Windows 8–has caused some concern in Redmond.
Fortunately for users and PC makers, Microsoft (which has a history of burying its head in the sand when products don’t work as well as they should) seems to want to address customer complaints about Windows 8…maybe. Earlier this week, Microsoft’s chief financial officer of the Windows division, Tami Reller, confirmed in an interview on the Windows blog that an update to Windows 8–code named Windows Blue–will be released at the end of this year. Reller’s sidekick and chief of Windows engineering, Julie Larson-Green said in a speech she gave on Tuesday that a preview of the update will be available at the Microsoft BUILD conference in June. Unfortunately, both Reller and Larson-Green failed to say which specific user complaints Windows Blue will address. In other words, don’t get too excited about the return of the Start menu on Windows 8 just yet, folks.
However, Reller did reveal a few things about the Windows Blue update in her interview on the Windows blog as well as in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Based off of Reller’s interviews, here are three things we know about Windows Blue:
While still hoping to revive the PC market, Microsoft will throw most of its money at touchscreens and tablets.
Microsoft made it no secret that Windows 8 and the coinciding launch of the Microsoft Surface tablet were their attempt to break into the mobile market. According to Reller, while Windows Blue might make it easier for people to use non-touchscreen based PCs, Microsoft will continue to concentrate on capturing mobile market share.
“Windows Blue will deliver the latest new innovations across an increasingly broad array of form factors of all sizes, display, battery life and performance while creating new opportunities for our ecosystem,” Reller said on the Windows blog. She followed that statement up by telling the Wall Street Journal that Microsoft expects to see more Windows 8 touchscreen PCs than ever on the market by the 2013 holiday shopping season and that the company’s marketing push around those devices will rival the campaign they launched when Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface initially launched.
Unfortunately, International Data Corp analyst Bob O’Donnell says that Microsoft can market Windows 8 and touchscreen PCs all they want, but the fact still remains that users are just not comfortable with the technology. Thus, PC sales will continue to suffer, no matter how ubiquitous Microsoft commercials become this holiday season.
Windows Blue signals a shift in strategy for Microsoft: smaller, more frequent updates to key software.
As previously mentioned, Microsoft has a history of only addressing user complaints about their software every three to five years–when they release an entirely new operating system. And even then, what they produce is often less than desirable. Windows Blue confirms what Steve Ballmer told shareholders earlier this year: Microsoft is shifting its strategy from a software company to a devices and services company. This means more Microsoft sanctioned hardware and the ability to update software to address user concerns as needed. On the surface (no pun intended), this strategy shift seems like a good one, but we’ll see how Windows Blue goes before we make the final call.
While a smaller version of the Microsoft Surface may still be in the works, Microsoft will also work to bring Windows 8 to smaller tablets like Google’s Nexus 7.
In all honesty, this is what Microsoft should have done all along. Rather than trying to beat Apple, Google and Amazon at their own game by producing a tablet of their own, Microsoft should have worked to partner with “the big three” and bring a solid Windows 8 experience to iPad Mini, Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire tablets. Improving Windows 8 functionality on smaller form factors so many months after Windows 8 launched may prove to be too little too late.
Will Windows Blue Win?
Given Microsoft’s past performance, it’s hard to believe that Windows Blue will save the company or the PC business at large. (Wasn’t that what Windows 8 was supposed to do?) What is certain, however, is that no matter how many times Microsoft gets knocked down, they always seem to get back up and try it again.