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5/30/2013
11:38 AM
Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
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Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft

Consumers will keep chasing new and shiny; business users will keep working on a PC. Microsoft finally appears to understand that.

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A confession: The original headline for this article was "Don't Forget About Us, Microsoft." By "us" I meant PC users, and especially business users. We'd previously been assigned standing room in the cattle car on Microsoft's continuing journey with Windows 8 and beyond.

I hit pause after new reports of what Microsoft will change in Windows 8.1 began appearing Wednesday afternoon. Hallelujah -- it appears Microsoft's actually listening to its customers.

The company on Thursday officially announced many of the changes in a blog post. And yes, they include the return of the Start button -- even if Microsoft's not calling it that. 8.1 will also include more boot options and Start screen customizations, built-in SkyDrive integration, and other updates. A full Windows 8.1 preview will be unveiled next month at Microsoft's developer conference.

[ What other tweaks has Microsoft made in Windows 8.1? Read Windows 8.1 Restores Start Button, With Twist. ]

The news should be at least partially reassuring to PC users who didn't love Windows 8 out of the gate, in part because it was a one-size-fits-all approach to a wide range of hardware -- much of which doesn't yet support touch. Windows 8 as currently constructed felt like over-compensation as Microsoft attempts to crack the consumer mobility market that Apple and Google have dominated to date. Microsoft's public commentary on the matter indicated as much. "Windows 8 redefines our market from PCs to mobile computing," read a recent blog post. This from the company whose software powers more than 90% of computers around the world.

The tune changed on Thursday, albeit slightly. Microsoft's sticking to its touch guns, but acknowledged that it's not currently optimal for plenty of users: "We also recognize there are many non-touch devices in use today -- especially in the commercial setting," corporate VP Antoine Leblond wrote on the Windows Blog. "As such we've focused on a number of improvements to ensure easier navigation for people using a mouse and keyboard."

You could argue that it shouldn't have taken this long for Microsoft to realize that. I say: Better late than never. Good on ya, Microsoft.

While we're here, can we give this "death of the PC" thing a rest? The PC is a commodity. Commodities, like toothpaste, aren't sexy; they're necessary. This doesn't make for a good growth story on Wall Street, nor a cool trend story on Madison Avenue. Tablets and tablet-like devices are new, they're shiny, and people are buying them. Lots of them. PCs have been around for forever and a day, and people -- consumers, in particular -- are buying fewer of them than they used to.

That doesn't mean millions of professionals no longer need full-featured, powerful desktops or laptops (aka notebooks) to do their jobs. Take anyone who relies heavily on computer-aided design (CAD) applications -- engineers, architects, designers, and the like. I've heard from several readers in these fields who've pointed out that heavy-duty CAD work just isn't suited for tablets or phones, at least not yet.

The same typically holds true in roles that require heavy content creation or data entry -- accountants, say, or writers. Does it mean these pros don't embrace mobility? Of course not -- many also tote tablets and certainly smartphones, too, especially in BYOD offices. And an increasing number of "traditional" PCs will no doubt include touchscreens. None of this means the PC is disappearing. (Video did not, in fact, kill the radio star.) PCs will remain necessary in many corporate environments, just as tablets and other devices will be increasingly important in certain jobs. There's room for both.

There's a common perception problem with necessities, though: They're usually kind of boring, unless maybe you're making million-dollar bets on the future price of oil or wheat. Social sites like Facebook are hot; toothpaste is not. But guess which one I'd give up first? (People who don't use toothpaste? Not often hot.)

Windows 8.1 ushers in a new Windows era of shorter, faster development-and-release cycles. In recent interviews with InformationWeek, Forrester senior analyst David Johnson pointed out that shift has a lot of upside for IT and businesses as a whole. Among the potential boons: Making it easier for organizations to stay current and reducing IT management burdens.

Of course, it has a downside, too. If Microsoft uses a more frequent release cycle as a means to chase the latest consumer trend or shareholder pressure -- rather than actually listening to customers and addressing their needs -- business users stand to lose. And there will always be something newer and cooler that gets consumers all riled up. Something will eventually usher in the "death of the tablet," too, even though tablets -- like the PCs that came before them -- probably aren't going anywhere.

No one should blame Microsoft for hunting the Almighty Consumer; it doesn't have much choice. It's just that the hunt shouldn't come at the expense of people who rely on computers to do their jobs. We don't really care if the new Angry Birds app is available; we do care whether our devices -- Microsoft's new word of choice -- are usable, productive tools for work.

This is a step in the right direction, an acknowledgement that tablets and desktops aren't the same thing, that people use technology for different reasons, and that the "world that blends our work and personal lives" may be more of a lifestyle issue than a computing problem. Microsoft appears to be using the first wave of the 8.x model as an opportunity to listen to what customers -- even us boring PC users -- actually want.

Thanks for that.

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Tony A
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Tony A,
User Rank: Strategist
5/31/2013 | 5:14:14 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
"PCs have been around for forever and a day,.." You're funny. But don't IW authors have to be at least voting age - if not drinking age?
Steve Naidamast
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Steve Naidamast,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/31/2013 | 4:48:35 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
"I've heard from several readers in these fields
who've pointed out that heavy-duty CAD work just isn't suited for
tablets or phones, at least not yet."

ReallY !?!? Doing heavy duty CAD on a smart-phone !?!? "at least not yet" should be corrected to "and never will be..."

Let's get real here...

As for the "Start Button", if you want it, get one of the new free utilities or spend $5 on the one from StarDock...
remmeler
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remmeler,
User Rank: Strategist
5/31/2013 | 4:48:16 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
I was almost scared off, but I took a retired XP and upgraded for $40 with the free Media Center Download and it brought it back from the dead.

After about 20 minutes I realized it was a slightly improved Windows 7 with a bolted on Modern Front End.

I then upgraded my production XP and now run my Win 8 and a Win 7 side by side. No real need for people to upgrade a Win 7
remmeler
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remmeler,
User Rank: Strategist
5/31/2013 | 4:43:55 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
Let's separate things. If you hate Windows 8, then you are probably an experienced Windows users who uses Desktop Programs and not apps.

Well, click on the Desktop Tile or boot directly with 8.1 then you are on an improved Windows 7. Many small improvements.

Take a look at Task Manager, Have a different background on each of two monitors. Have your task bar optionally appear on the bottom of both monitors and other small nice things that you will find.

Miss the Start Button Menu. See my post below and just remember a couple of things or go ahead and install a Start Button.

If you have Windows 7, should you upgrade? Probably not, not enough improvement to really be worth it. But if you have Vista or XP, then probably.

The upgrade to a retired XP of mine brought it back from the dead. Run the Suitability program first.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
5/31/2013 | 4:39:36 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
Not to mention the price of an upgrade from Win7 to Win8 was raised by 40% six weeks after release. I guess the reception was so poor M$ need to raise the price on the poor fools still willing to upgrade.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
5/31/2013 | 4:35:21 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
"easier navigation for people using a mouse and keyboard", is what 90% of business PCs use and NOW your going to make it easier? That wasn't M$ first thought in releasing Win8? And you're shocked at the poor reception with less than 4% adoption of Win8 amount Win7 users?
remmeler
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remmeler,
User Rank: Strategist
5/31/2013 | 4:30:40 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
I do like my Start Button/Menu but,

If you miss the Start Button, then you are an experienced Windows users who is going to be on the Desktop a lot.

1. The folder "File Explorer", automatically put on your lower task bar,
gives you most of the capability of the Start Button Menu. Just set
the default to "all folders" if you want.

2. The ability to pin programs is actually the Start Screen on the
Modern Front End or you can pin to the lower task bar on the Desktop or the Desktop
itself or mix and match.

3. The ability to look at all programs is a right click on the Modern Front End

4. Shutdown options can be accessed in various ways, but the three
fingered M/S salute (Ctl, Alt, Del) and press the power icon works in
all situations and gives you quick access to the Task Manager.

The Run Command can be found by mousing to the left corner on Desktop
(that left mousing ability goes away if you install Classic Shell, but
of course you then have a start button/menu) or Click on the Windows Key
+ R

Don't get me wrong, I installed the Classic Shell and got my Start
Button back because it is comfortable for me after all these years.
But, how to do without it can fit on a Post-It Note.
AsokAsus
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AsokAsus,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/30/2013 | 7:11:16 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
No restored Start Menu = Microsoft is lying though their teeth about
listening to their customers. If the restored Start Button just takes a
user back to Metro, Microsoft has pretty much just spit in the faces of
their users and has indicated that it no longer has any real interest
in remaining in business, because the outrage that will be engendered by
such a move will make the anger triggered by the original Start Menu
removal look trivial.

Potential customers are waiting to see if 8.1 shows Microsoft is
listening or not. If not, then the current stall out in PC sales will be
nothing compared to what's going to occur after a
poke-you-in-the-eye-with-a-stick 8.1 is released.

Given what's coming down the pike with 8.1 and Xbox One, Steve Ballmer seems absolutely determined to kill Microsoft.
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