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5/22/2013
04:32 PM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
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Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong

Windows 8.1 should be coming out now. Here's why Microsoft can no longer afford to target the fall for new releases.

8 Things Microsoft Could Do To Save Windows 8
8 Things Microsoft Could Do To Save Windows 8
(click image for slideshow)
It is going to be very difficult for Microsoft to succeed with Windows 8.1, and that has little to do with whether the official build will include a Start button or boot-to-desktop option. Rather, it's because Microsoft picked a terrible time to release the upcoming follow-on to Windows 8.

When it comes to weaving the saga of Windows 8.1, the media has pretty well vetted three of the Five W's. Most of the analysis goes like this: Microsoft (Who) must improve on Windows 8 by doing X (What) to bring more computer users into the Modern UI era (Why). The other two W's, though, have been largely ignored. One of them, Where, isn't really relevant to the story. But it's curious that the question of When has barely been touched, because it's tremendously important to the prospects for Windows 8.1 success.

Microsoft hasn't come out and said when Windows 8.1, code-named Windows Blue, will be commercially available, although Digitimes reported last week that the official release will come in late October. Judging from the state of development activity, the timing sounds about right. This much is certain: Windows 8.1 will not be available in the next six weeks, as it needs to be to make it into the first batch of next-generation PCs.

[ When it does arrive, will Windows 8.1 increase acceptance of Microsoft's beleaguered OS? Read Windows 8: 5 Hopeful Signs. ]

Those cool new systems are being released in June and early July for a reason: to intercept the critical back-to-school selling season. An October launch for Windows 8.1 means that back-to-school PCs will be saddled with a lame-duck version of Windows. (I've written before about how important it is for the PC OEMs to update in lockstep their entire product: hardware, OS, and aesthetics. That means we'll see fewer PC sales than we would if PC makers were able to pair their latest hardware with the latest operating system.

In some ways, releasing a new version of Windows in October, which Microsoft has tried to do since Windows XP, makes sense. Microsoft has three primary channels for distributing Windows: Retail, for standalone copies; government, enterprise and other large buyers, which install Windows themselves onto the computers they buy; and the PC makers, which bundle Windows with new systems. October is ideal timing for selling retail copies to customers who want to install the latest onto their home PCs. And large customers don't much care which season Microsoft picks to release Windows, because they're not going to rush out and buy it anyway.

So it's only the PC OEMs that get stung by an October release date. And they still have time to regroup and address the holiday season, even if they risk losing back-to-school sales. They've even got a chance to recoup those delayed purchases.

When Microsoft was forced to push out the Windows Vista launch to early 2007, for example, the final period of 2006 ended up being the PC market's worst in the 22-quarter stretch from early 2003, when consumer notebook purchasing lifted PC shipments out of the post-Y2K slump, through the end of 2008, when the financial crash stalled sales. According to IDC, PC shipments grew just 8.3% in the fourth quarter of 2006, the only period during the stretch that didn't log double-digit growth. But sales bounced back the following period, jumping 15.3% over the first quarter of 2006. Of course, there weren't any tablets around to siphon off holiday spending in 2006. You couldn't even buy a Kindle for another year.

The landscape has changed, and there's far more at stake now. Today, consumers don't just sit and wait until PC vendors get their act together. They spend their holiday budget on other things. Tablets, mostly. And if they buy tablets, the loss to the PC business doesn't end with missed seasonal sales. That's because these consumers aren't the same PC users they were before they got the tablets. Their tastes have changed. And their usage patterns have changed. They do less on the PC than they once did.

Some of them won't come back to the PC. More commonly, though, consumers who opt for a tablet because the stable of available PCs doesn't compel them eventually will return to buy a PC. They'll take longer to do that than they otherwise would have. And they probably won't spend as much on it as they once would, because the PC isn't as essential to them as it once was.

That cuts to the core of the PC OEMs' business. But it's also a nick in Microsoft's bottom line, and one the company can't afford to ignore any longer.

An October release date for Windows 8.1 won't do as much damage as the Windows 8 release caused a year ago. For one thing, Windows 8.1 is a comparatively minor release, so Windows 8 won't feel quite as lame-ducky on back-to-school systems this year as Windows 7 did last summer. For another, there are fewer PC users who've never owned a tablet to alienate. Not after last summer.

It's been tempting for Microsoft to time new Windows releases for the holiday season, but the company is going to have to change its mindset -- and do it soon. Eventually, its planners will come to realize that consumers aren't going to upgrade a PC to the next OS if they didn't bother to buy a PC that came bundled with the last version.

And that, my friends, is the Why behind the When.

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jonesk
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jonesk,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/23/2013 | 2:07:03 AM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
Most people don't like change. The biggest problem with Windows 8 is the UI change, which I believe is hindering wide spread adoption. An OS should be intuitive enough that anyone can start immediately using it without a 10 minute introduction. That is why the iPad is so popular - a 2 year old can figure out how to use it in a couple of minutes.
When I rolled out Office 2007 with the new ribbon interface, my users were ready to kill me, especially the person editing publications who did not have time to learn a new interface. Windows 8 has the same problem. It should have been built with the option to use the new interface or maintain the original Windows 7 interface.
Palpatine
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Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/2/2013 | 6:23:51 AM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
It was funny 12 months ago ballmerboy. Now each time Redomnd PR says "you have not used it" it means "MS is not relevant anymore". Have fun on TechNet... oh, sorry, ballmermonkey just killed it...
sjacks982
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sjacks982,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/2/2013 | 1:57:37 AM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
Did you like how Microsoft tried to ram Vista down our throats? Win8 is the same 6.x codebase, including the same bugs!
sjacks982
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sjacks982,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/2/2013 | 1:45:15 AM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
"Last time I checked most people would rather have a stable, fast, ...version released not something that's not ready." Isn't that why users want Windows 7 instead of Win8?
Terabyte Net
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Terabyte Net,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2013 | 4:50:54 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
The fact is Win8 users DO have a choice, you're just unwilling to make that choice. It's the same choice EU users have with IE, if they don't like what comes with Windows install Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc... It should not have been Microsoft's problem if users were too lazy or not keen enough to know how to change how they browsed the Internet, but MS was slammed for not allowing others to make $ on their OS (when was the last time a EU car maker was forced to use non-OEM filters, glass, seats, brakes, etc... in their vehicles?). Come on, if you don't like Metro change it. You DO have a choice.
TubaOrNotTuba
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TubaOrNotTuba,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2013 | 4:16:38 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
Really? You don't need any 3rd party apps to make Win7, Apple OS/X, Linux, etc... usable? Hmmm.... How do you create documents, browse the web (unless you use IE, Safari, Linux has no native browser), send an e-mail, etc...??? Come on people, an OS is useless unless without add-on programs whether they come from MS (Office, SQL, etc..) or from a 3rd party (OpenOffice, Firefox, Chrome, Classic Shell, etc...). People need to get over this claim, it doesn't hold water.
TubaOrNotTuba
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TubaOrNotTuba,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2013 | 4:11:32 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
Wait, those who need back to school computers are going to buy no matter what. Christmas is optional buying season. That's the season they need to hit. That's why October is the target date.

As for bi-annual updates, clearly most here don't seem to realize just how many lines of code Windows has. There are lots of estimates out there for XP/2003 that range up to 50,000,000. Vista/7/8 almost certainly have more. Just as Apple doesn't release a new OS for their desktops every year, neither can Microsoft, it's just not possible to first code any changes then test. iOS is a toy OS as is Android. They're tiny code base makes changes easier, though Apple and Google have both proven how badly they can screw up by rushing things to market too soon (iOS 6.0 and Android 4.0 were both bug laden). Get over the desire for twice yearly full updates, they're not going to happen.
Terabyte Net
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Terabyte Net,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2013 | 2:13:13 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
Michael, was Windows 8 a surprise to Dell, HP, Toshiba, Sony, etc...? NO. It was on the horizon for years. I recently bought a $600 Dell Latitude 10 running Win8 Pro that's 10x the tablet that my $600 iPad ever was. I can run Office 2013 and essentially any other app I want. Yes, it has a slow Atom CPU, but tablets are not extreme gaming systems. I also deliberately did not buy a keyboard to force myself out of the traditional keyboard/mouse world. For the past month I've used it exclusively for things I would have used my iPad for as well as for mundane tasks like e-mail and web browsing. I've also used it to edit Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and even a couple of PowerPoint presentations. I also remote to my desktop and have toyed with, though admittedly not very successfully, Sibelius 7 to edit a couple of music scores (that really requires a mouse for ultra fine dexterity).

Anyway, I've said this before, the press has more to do with adoption than anyone else. If you guys had taken the time to use Windows 8, customize it, and share what works with the public rather than just deriding it from day one people would be much happier. Take Vista for example, you guys jumped on board with the Apple commercials hook, line, and sinker and yet if you were running the right hardware Vista worked, and continues to work well, but positive press has been proven to not drive viewers. If it did CNN, Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, etc... would report on good things going on in the world instead of jumping from one negative story to the next day after day minute after minute.
Terabyte Net
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Terabyte Net,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2013 | 2:03:11 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
The ability to skip Metro is alive and well despite your claims. Every Start button replacement product, including my favorite Classic Shell, does this. So while MS may have changed the registry, you forget that it is THEIR product NOT your product, but they clearly allow it or Classic Shell wouldn't work.
Terabyte Net
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Terabyte Net,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2013 | 1:59:02 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
@Palpatine, really? Care to wager on some of your claims?

1) "You have not the choice to skip Metro UI." I skip Metro on every Win8 desktop I touch. It's called Classic Shell. So you ABSOLUTELY have a choice to skip Metro.

2) "You cannot disable it". While technically true, I NEVER see Metro on any Win8 desktop I see and Win8's shell uses less RAM than Win7's shell so you don't need to disable it.

3) "You cannot avoid to jump to Metro world each time a Metro apps start, good luck in finding them and changing them to desktop apps." What Metro app can't be changed to a desktop App? Acrobat opens PDFs for me. IE 10 or Chrome, depending on my mood, open websites for me, and not the Metro version of IE (I'm writing this in Chrome BTW). The only Metro apps I ever see are ones written for Metro like Weather, but then again you can't avoid the Weather Channel's GUI if you want to use the Weather Channel app!

4)"You cannot access to controls MS decided to move to Metro" Which controls would that be? The complaints have been the opposite. Many of the controls for Windows can only be accessed from the traditional Control Panel. Yes, some of the controls like connecting to a Wi-Fi network have the "modern" GUI, but who cares what the GUI looks like when you need to enter a PSK, just enter it and go on.

5)"new wonderful MS mices that integrates a button for getting you straight to Metro" Hmmm... I guess MS should make their mice for Apple and Linux fans huh? Come on, you're just grasping at straws here. If you don't like Microsoft's mice don't buy them. There are an endless array of options out there for mice.

In the end, if you don't like Metro there are ways to customize it. Just like you could write that latest business proposal in Notepad, you're much more likely to use an add-on product like Office or OpenOffice, adding something like Class Shell to skip Metro is NOT a stretch despite what some detractors would demand you believe.
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