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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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8 Things Microsoft Should Fix In Windows Blue
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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dottmcse
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dottmcse,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2013 | 8:57:42 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
I have been working, if you can call it working, with Windows 8 for the past two month. New company I am with were early adopters of Win 8 (BIG mistake) loss of productivity company-wide. This piece of junk is crap and I have great doubts that the 8.1 version will fix any of it.
From a business perspective MS made too many changes from 7 to 8.
Don't get me started on the 2012 Server version, that is a HUGE mess itself.
Didn't the dickwads in Redmond do any focus groups of the business community?
I think in time Microsoft will re-label Windows 8 as Windows Vista 2.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
6/6/2013 | 11:11:29 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
Thanks for nothing. Desktop users will still not have a functional start menu that allows for hierarchically organizing applications and documents while keeping access to them down to a few clicks. There is also no word on expanding hardware support given that there is plenty of perfectly fine hardware that Microsoft does not provide or works with vendors to create drivers for. Alternatively, Win7 driver model could be emulated.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
6/5/2013 | 6:09:48 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
Believe it or not I have all three; Win8, iPad, and Android touch devices. In my opinion the most intuitive, easiest to learn and easiest to use is the iPad. Second is the Android. A far and I do mean far distant third is Win8. There is no way a novice can pick up a Win8 touchscreen tablet and figure out how to use it without first taking the tutorial and not be proficient without further tutelage. Win8.1 is not going to fix this.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
6/5/2013 | 6:06:10 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
I think you've provided some very good example's of what's wrong with Win8 verses Win7. Please tell me why any of these needed to change from Win7 to Win8? Rearranging deck chairs on a sinking boat comes to mind.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
6/5/2013 | 5:47:11 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
I'd put Win8 in the abacus category. Yes I'd use the application search function in Win7 and Win8 works the same way but the WIN7 menu is indispensable to a mice and keyboard Win7 user not so with Metro. A Start button that takes you to the Win8 Metro Application panel is NOT listening to users.
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
6/3/2013 | 5:50:50 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
Good idea if you know the name of the executable. Not so good if you don't. How many non-administrators actually know that the Word executable is winword.exe?

New isn't necessarily better, and the deconstruction of the familiar Windows interface in Win8 is a great example.
twilliamson423
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twilliamson423,
User Rank: Strategist
6/3/2013 | 1:07:53 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
Michael, I have a Surface RT I bought for portability. That said, I use the Win8 apps all of the time. I take notes in meetings, write memos, whatever I need to do. Win8 apps are a great compliment to many "real programs". When I use Office it kicks me into the desktop which I have no problem with and I do whatever I need to do. I would imagine once all of Office has received the Win8 treatment my time in the desktop will decrease even more. As a student, there is not much I can't do in the tiled mode but I will confess that for the convenience of a full-size keyboard and mouse I do use my laptop, also Win8. Again, mostly, for convenience. There are some things I still use a desktop for, coding, web design, and photo-editing come to mind, but there are some Win8 apps out there to do that, I just haven't had the time to try them out.
I wonder if people would still feel the same if Adobe released a full-powered Win8 version of Photoshop?
Palpatine
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Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/1/2013 | 7:39:28 AM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
W8 user base increased a gloomy 0.4% in May, 50% less than previous month, despising the major efforts of MS PR to advertise the long awaited 8.1 as free update for 8... total fail!
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
5/31/2013 | 10:45:45 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
I work with systems that require MSSQL Server and yes, a big fat tile is plastered on Metro for every stinkin' executable of which many will be used once or twice. They used to be tucked away nicely in a subfolder in the start menu, but now they are position even more prominently than Management Studio. I fail to see the benefit here. I find it utterly distracting and a loss of functionality especially since an effective system such as a menu structure already is established. There is no hierarchy when there is just one level and everything is treated the same regardless how important it is.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
5/31/2013 | 10:41:12 PM
re: Windows 8.1: Thanks For Listening, Microsoft
Browsing through a menu structure is way faster than pointing at a text box and typing, especially when using the mouse.
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