This week, finally, Microsoft formally acknowledged Windows Blue and confirmed that the Windows 8 follow-on, which comes closer to a service release than an all-new Windows version, will make its way to the market by year's end.
Bloggers already have spent weeks combing through the various leaked builds of the upcoming refresh and exposing new features, performance enhancements and UI improvements. Company representatives haven't yet confirmed any of those discoveries, saying only that Microsoft has been listening closely to customer feedback and will be giving a full-on demonstration at Microsoft's Build 2013 developer conference at the end of June.
[ What else can Microsoft do to mollify Windows users? Windows Blue: Restoring The Start Button Isn't Enough. ]
The tech press has been fixated on discerning just how closely Microsoft has been listening. Indeed, it has written so much lately with so little to go on from Microsoft that the coverage has taken on the tenor of an Access Hollywood report before a Kardashian wedding.
I'm making light, but in many ways the onslaught of articles is justifiable. Certainly, it underscores just how much is riding on Windows Blue. With all the hype and glitz surrounding smartphones and tablets, it's easy to lose sight of how critical a role the PC still plays in many of our lives. No, it's not the same role it played last year, or the year before. But for many of us -- certainly for most of us in IT -- a Windows PC is still a go-to device in our quiver of electronics tools. And because of the pace of change in the enterprise segment, Windows is guaranteed to play a central role for several more years at least.
In that sense, Microsoft isn't just gambling its own fortunes. It's messing with how many of us get things done every day.
That's why the anger over Windows 8 has been so palpable, and why fixing it has become so important. Forcing us to take longer, more circuitous routes to what we do every day feels like starting breakfast one morning only to find that your roommate has rearranged the kitchen. The more often you reach for a fork in what's become the towel drawer, the angrier you get.
If Microsoft is really listening to customers, then Windows Blue will give users a way to do things the way they're used to. Microsoft understood that wisdom back in the early days of Windows, when it used a two-step process to woo Lotus users over to Excel. For years, Microsoft gave diehard Lotus fans their old menus and keystroke combos. So those users came over to Excel. And eventually, those users got to know Excel and they dropped their demands for Lotus commands.
In the same way, Microsoft needs to let customers do things the way they've always done them if it's ever going to engineer a successful migration to its Modern UI. Apparently, though, that institutional knowledge has been lost at Microsoft. When the incumbent forces customers to change in ways they don't want to, as Microsoft has been doing, it opens the doors to competition. Of course, the Mac is always welcoming frustrated Windows users. Some Linux bundlers, successful in the server space, increasingly are setting their sights on the PC client. And now Google is readying an assault on Windows' turf with a new generation of Chromebooks due out in the second half of the year.
A larger desktop tile on the Start screen, as Windows Blue reportedly has, won't placate long-time Windows users. Microsoft will have to give folks who have no use for tiles a way to work the way they do now. If Microsoft doesn't do this, users will keep seeing red -- until, eventually, this issue won't be important to them any more.