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7/26/2013
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Microsoft's Dilemma: Windows 8.1 May Not Be Enough

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer tells employees that Windows 8 has underwhelmed. A turnaround depends on Windows 8.1 and his reorg plan.

10 Hidden Benefits of Windows 8.1
10 Hidden Benefits of Windows 8.1
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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer reportedly admitted at an internal town hall meeting that sales of Windows 8 and Windows RT devices, specifically the Surface RT, have disappointed.

In a sense, the candor is refreshing, given that Microsoft has repeatedly sidestepped hard questions about Windows 8's sluggish adoption. But the statements are only new in the sense that they come from Ballmer; others have been saying the same thing for months. It's noteworthy that Microsoft's CEO spoke so frankly -- but what really matters is whether his "one Microsoft" vision is the antidote to the problem.

Regarding the Surface RT, Ballmer said, "We built a few more devices than we could sell," according to The Verge, which cited "several sources" present at the meeting. The CEO reportedly confirmed that the company's recent $900 million writedown was to accommodate Surface RT price reductions, which Microsoft hopes will stimulate sales.

The website Neowin, which was the first to publish details about the meeting, reported that Ballmer said next-gen Surface models are in testing. Recent reports have suggested the next Surface RT will run on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 chip, which is substantially faster than the current edition's NVIDIA Tegra 3. The new processor could also enable LTE support, which today's Surface lacks.

[ Microsoft keeps trying to read XP's eulogy, but some aren't listening. See Windows XP's End Of Life: Readers Respond. ]

Ballmer also said, "We're not selling as many Windows devices as we want to," according to The Verge. The CEO reportedly stated that limited stocks of touch-enabled devices limited the Win8 launch, and that the company is working with OEMs to provide a variety of compelling hardware options for the upcoming back-to-school and holiday seasons.

Ballmer's frank tone is notable, but no one seriously doubted that Windows 8 hasn't lived up to Microsoft's hopes.

In the past, when company execs have been questioned about Win8's viability, they've typically pointed to its 100 million license sales. These figures don't necessarily represent the number of devices that have reached consumers, however, and it's become clear, following months of declining PC sales and bleak reports about Windows 8's market share, that Microsoft was spinning numbers. If Ballmer is admitting that Win8 has struggled, he's just conceding the obvious.

And his reported statements aren't that much different than comments he's made in the past. At Build, the company's conference for developers, Ballmer also blamed Windows 8's struggles on the dearth of touch-enabled inventory available at launch. His newest remarks are a bit more direct, but disappointing sales have been implicit in his statements for weeks.

Likewise, at this point, it would be difficult for Ballmer to ignore the $900 million charge. What the CEO said is less important than whether the new $349 price point is cheap enough to stimulate sales. With the Nexus 7 poised to disrupt the low-cost tablet scene, the success of Ballmer's strategy is not assured.

It's also strange that Ballmer implicated inventory shortcomings in Windows 8's trouble while also admitting that Microsoft has more unsold Surface RT stock than it wants. After all, if consumers were so hungry for Windows 8 touchscreens, why didn't a few more of them purchase a Surface RT, which was in high supply?

This odd dichotomy could merely indicate how little enthusiasm consumers have for Windows RT. But it also reiterates a point that Ballmer didn't make: Slow Windows 8 sales involve more than hardware.

The CEO reportedly touched on this topic in only a roundabout way. According to Neowin, he said that Windows 8.1 was guided by user feedback, which obliquely references divisive reactions to the OS's current UI. It's good that Microsoft is focused on producing better devices, both internally and with OEMs. If Win8 sales take off, new tablets, convertible laptops and all-in-one desktops will be part of the equation.

But again, Ballmer still didn't address the bigger question: Is Windows 8.1 good enough? There are many reasons to think that it is, including a more polished UI, the ability to boot directly to the desktop, and deeper connections to the cloud. Then again, some users probably don't feel their feedback has been heard; Windows 8.1 brings back Windows 7's Start button, for example, but not the much-requested Start menu.

In recently reorganizing the company, Steve Ballmer has painted a compelling vision, in which Microsoft's diverse assets connect to and enhance one another, all via the cloud. In the meantime, it's interesting to hear Microsoft executives reflect on the company's struggles. More important, though, is whether the company is making the right moves to stay on top.

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gmcpherson570
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gmcpherson570,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/17/2013 | 2:29:23 PM
re: Microsoft's Dilemma: Windows 8.1 May Not Be Enough
You are correct, but here is the problem. Microsoft isn't rolling out the final version until October, although they've been good about letting everyone have the preview. There is universal hate for hate for Windows 8 because the only thing Microsoft says after Windows 8 is touch, like some computer pedophile. IF, notice the big if, Microsoft would get a real marketing strategy and focus on the non-touch aspects of Windows 8.1 and start getting the word out now they might have a shot of salvaging Windows 8.1. However, as long as they remain with touch fetish they will continue losing the hearts and minds of their user base.
gmcpherson570
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gmcpherson570,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/17/2013 | 2:25:33 PM
re: Microsoft's Dilemma: Windows 8.1 May Not Be Enough
As a "tech people" let me explain a couple of things, since we built this industry. We understand the hardware, and economics. We know it's much better, for creativity, to get a desktop with the newest I7 Haswell chipset fully unlocked with 16+ Gigs of Ram and a few terabytes of hard drive space, after our SDD, for a few hundred dollars more than some touch screen underpowered overpriced "consumer device." Our rigs will last us at least 5 years, if not longer. If you are a gamer you end up upgrading your vid card every six months or so, but that's another group.
As a tech guy I can tell you I have 3 tablets in my house, 3 desktops, and 1 laptop. They call get used by various folks in my family for various reasons.(This does not include my office equipment I use for my real job here at home.) I will never give up my keyboard, mouse, and desktop and plop my Android hybrid in its place. If you think that you can, you're doing it wrong.
gmcpherson570
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gmcpherson570,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/17/2013 | 2:14:24 PM
re: Microsoft's Dilemma: Windows 8.1 May Not Be Enough
DDurbin1 as a great point. Yes, any company needs to make money. However, you do this by creating quality products that are needed, not manufacturing something that even during Beta the market was screaming, "please don't roll it out this way." Microsoft has made records amount of money creating good products people wanted. However, they appear to have run out of ideas, or at least good ideas. If they had just listened and left the desktop as it was on desktop devices and had the modern UI load on touch devices they would have had a hit, instead of being hit.
GBARRINGTON196
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GBARRINGTON196,
User Rank: Strategist
8/16/2013 | 11:13:44 PM
re: Microsoft's Dilemma: Windows 8.1 May Not Be Enough
Name an Android Desktop device. . .
JasonJ043
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JasonJ043,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/3/2013 | 10:09:39 PM
re: Microsoft's Dilemma: Windows 8.1 May Not Be Enough
It amazes me how stupid tech people are. Desktops are slowly going the way of the dinosaur. Laptops have outsold them by huge margins for years. And before you claim how bad touch is on a laptop, I suggest you actually try a touch laptop for more than a few days. Touch makes using a laptop much better. It compliments the mouse and keyboard nicely.
JasonJ043
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JasonJ043,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/3/2013 | 10:04:56 PM
re: Microsoft's Dilemma: Windows 8.1 May Not Be Enough
You are completely wrong. Even the free versions of Visual Studio are light-years ahead of any other IDE. The server market has been going with Windows for anything important and still is. All the Linux boxes I hear so much about are doing are serving websites. As for the desktop market going to iOS and Android, that's probably the funniest thing I've heard all month. iOS and Android can't do anywhere near what Windows or OS X can do. Also, OS X is NOT Linux based. It is Unix based, which is what Linux is a copy of.
JasonJ043
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JasonJ043,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/3/2013 | 10:00:19 PM
re: Microsoft's Dilemma: Windows 8.1 May Not Be Enough
Yeah, I know. How dare a corporation created for the express purpose of making money, try to make more money! /s
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2013 | 5:35:13 PM
re: Microsoft's Dilemma: Windows 8.1 May Not Be Enough
Java's security woes are overwhelmingly client-side applets running in the browser. Most of Java's appeal and value is server side.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2013 | 11:29:00 AM
re: Microsoft's Dilemma: Windows 8.1 May Not Be Enough
Java tools are decent, but it isn't the tools, it is Java and its rather bad security reputation. Oracle needs to follow the lead and patch its runtime once a month, same as Microsoft does with .NET.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2013 | 11:26:53 AM
re: Microsoft's Dilemma: Windows 8.1 May Not Be Enough
As far as access to development tools goes, DreamSpark gives full access to the pro line of development tools for anyone attending a school. It even covers home schoolers. And it is free as in you don't have to pay anything to get a license and a download. All you need to do is register with Microsoft to get access for a year.
In regards to your solutions:
1 - not needed, there are plenty of decent Linux distros out, doubt that Microsoft can do a better job
2 - Adding support for Linux/Android/OSX or any other *nix / BSD based OS would be awesome, but I don't expect any of that for free. You cannot have everything for free.
3 - While MSSQL Server isn't bad there are plenty of alternatives that can do the job as well, MySQL being just one of them. There really is no need to port MSSQL to Linux
4 - OpenOffice/LibreOffice
5 - exists partially via Mono, but it would be nice to extend Mono so that one can drop .NET binaries into Linux and just click on them to start
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