Windows 8.1 Update 1: Nadella's Challenge - InformationWeek
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Windows 8.1 Update 1: Nadella's Challenge

Microsoft has a new CEO, but does it have a new Windows strategy? Here's what to expect from Windows 8.1 Update 1.

have shifted to a more likely scenario: Update 1 will automatically recognize the underlying hardware, booting to the desktop on non-touch PCs, and to the Start Screen on tactile-equipped devices.

3. That sounds good for people with old PCs, but I use a Windows tablet. What's in it for me? True, Update 1's most visible alterations target disenchanted desktop users -- but anyone who regularly moves between Windows 8's two UIs could benefit from greater cohesion.

Plus, Microsoft hasn't even acknowledged these leaks yet. It's certainly possible that Microsoft will adjust its strategy before future Windows 8.1 updates make it to market.

That said, Update 1 is thought to include a number of behind-the-scenes enhancements that will further unify the code beneath Microsoft's various platforms. In theory, this should enable developers to create applications that can be deployed throughout the entire Windows ecosystem with minimal tweaking.

The takeaway for Windows tablet users? If Microsoft motivates developers, you'll get better and more abundant apps.

4. When is Update 1 coming? According to a report this week by ZDnet's Mary Jo Foley, Update 1 will arrive in April. A March release date has previously popped up in rumors. Build, Microsoft's conference for developers, is in April.   

5. Didn't Windows 8.1 just come out last fall? Why is a new update coming already? There are two ways to look at this.

On the one hand, Microsoft has abandoned its old Windows development model, in which major changes were deployed every two years in massive chunks. Now, small updates arrive on a continual basis, and even large changes, such as Update 1 appears to be, can be pushed out between major product revisons. New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has championed this sort of rapid release cadence throughout his career, making it a staple of his enterprise and cloud teams. Update 1 was in the works long before Nadella got the job -- but with the 22-year Microsoft veteran now at the helm, customers can probably expect more of his preferred cadence.

Then again, Microsoft sort of has to rush out another update. Windows 8.1 has made only modest inroads in the tablet market. Among PC users, the OS is truly struggling. Demand has been so bad HP recently launched a promotion for Windows 7 machines that uses the slogan "Back by Popular Demand!"

A screenshot from an alleged Windows 8.1 update shows Modern apps pinned to the task bar. (Source: Win8China)
A screenshot from an alleged Windows 8.1 update shows Modern apps pinned to the task bar. (Source: Win8China)

6. Is Update 1 the equivalent of Windows 9? It doesn't appear to be. Microsoft tippers have reportedly said Windows 9 will arrive in April 2015. The new OS will allegedly complete some of the desktop-Modern integrations begun in Windows 8.1. Notably, it is expected to allow Modern apps to run not only in full-screen mode, as they do now, but also in windows on the desktop, just like legacy apps. Windows 9 is also expected to reintegrate Windows 7's Start menu.

The next-gen flagship could debut at Build as a development announcement, but with Nadella less than a week into his new job, plans could change. 

7. What does this mean for the future of Windows? In many ways, Update 1 and Windows 9 appear to represent a retreat from Microsoft's original Windows 8 goals: popularizing convergent devices; encouraging PC users to embrace touch gestures; and so on.

Even so, Microsoft doesn't seem intent on abandoning so much as repositioning the Modern UI.

With Nadella now directing retiring CEO Steve Ballmer's "One Microsoft" strategy, bigger changes could be afoot for Windows. Services such as Office Web Apps and OneDrive have already decoupled some Microsoft applications and services from the OS. Under Nadella, it's likely the company will accelerate this strategy, making more of its assets cross-platform and cloud-friendly.

That means Windows devices, particularly tablets, will have to provide the best integrated experience to remain relevant. If iPad and Android tablets support native versions of Office, Skype, OneDrive, Outlook, and other Microsoft properties, Windows slates will only add value if they package everything better than the competition.

As to how Nadella will handle these challenges, he and other Microsoft leaders will be under pressure to deliver a persuasive explanation at Build.

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Strategist
2/10/2014 | 8:32:47 AM
Re: A day late
User Rank: Apprentice
2/10/2014 | 4:48:28 AM
UI Lacking cohesiveness
Windows 8 is undoubtedly designed for touch enabled PC hardware. However, its new User Interface (UI) is poorly designed and executed. No wonder, most users prefer Windows 7 over it. I am a Surface Pro user and I feel the live tile UI and the Desktop Environment lack cohesion. Personally, I feel extremely irritated with switching between the desktop and the live tile UI environment. Furthermore, having a different UI in its live tile environment is confusing, irregular, and unfamiliar.

Removing the Start Menu from the Desktop environment is a big fail. Something which was working perfectly well should not be abandoned because the UX Designer wants something new.

Perhaps the new update might bring the much needed cohesiveness presently lacking in the existing User Experience. 
User Rank: Ninja
2/9/2014 | 9:24:56 PM
When you start near the top, it's really hard to improve!
I think Microsoft's biggest problem is that Windows itself is too hard to beat. They've created THE World Standard, and everybody else has been copying their "look and feel" for decades now. There really is scant room for improvement, and there won't be until some unimagined technological breakthrough occurs or somehow there is an equally monumental change in how we work. Until then, it's just planned obsolescence, and Redmond isn't Detroit; they are just too fundamentally honest to make that sort of thing work.




User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 4:55:30 PM
Overcoming the Start menu issue
I have not had extensive experience yet with Windows 8, but will be installing it on my mother's computer soon.

One of the complaints I've heard well articulated before is that replacing the "Start" functionality with the tile interface is rather jarring and particularly removes you from your context.  It seems that the doorway effect - walking through a doorway and forgetting why you entered - may be kicking in here.

To help users not lose their context, why not make the tile background translucent when invoked from the keyboard or mouse?  This could help make it feel like a not-entirely-other world than the old desktop world.
User Rank: Ninja
2/8/2014 | 2:11:39 PM
The squeaky wheel is getting greased
As it should be.  One of the things that annoyed me about MS under Steve Ballmer was the brazen attempts to dictate to the market and make life difficult for perceived enemies without regard to the wants and needs of customers (the people who pay), which should come before all else (investors and employees are paid out of what customers provide).  One of the things I'm hoping for from Satya Nadella is a commitment to put customers (especially end users) first.  I'd like to see a quick end to the monopoly games too, but customer-centrism is both more important (a customer-centric monopolist is a lot more tolerable than a stockholder/executive-centric one could possibly be) and more easily achieved in the short term.

i've no objection to frequent releases, but Mozilla's recent practice of a major release a couple of times a year is ridiculous.  If MS wants to use the quick release model, then there should be a major release once every few years and minor releases every few months.  So Windows might well get up to 8.99 before Windows 9 comes out, but under no circumstances do I want to see Windows 100 in my lifetime.  Major releases should mean something instead of being a mere marketing ploy.


User Rank: Ninja
2/8/2014 | 10:37:48 AM
Re: Back tracking Microsoft?
Exactly! I was on the beta test forums and the top complaints were Metro and the lack of a start menu plus the lack of hardware support for not that old and not that unusual equipment. Why even have a beta phase when the major complaints of the majority of users are arrogantly ignored? Microsoft got what they deserved, but they should have been hit much harder on that.
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 10:08:48 AM
A day late
...and a dollar short from a company whose motto ought to be "where quality and usability are Job 1.1, SP3".
User Rank: Strategist
2/8/2014 | 9:45:18 AM
Back tracking Microsoft?
So Microsoft is back tracking on Windows 8 given all the backlash and weak PC sales. Go figure, does not take much of a CEO to realize you have to satify your customers. Could have saved themselves some lost sales to listen to beta testers feedback on Windows 8 in the first place.
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