Windows 8.1 Update: Can It End The Rut? - InformationWeek

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Software // Operating Systems
12:45 PM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Windows 8.1 Update: Can It End The Rut?

Microsoft users have been surprisingly indifferent to Windows 8.1. The company needs this spring's Win 8.1 update to reverse the trend.

Windows XP Shutdown: 10 Facts To Know
Windows XP Shutdown: 10 Facts To Know
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This spring, Microsoft will release a Windows 8.1 update intended to make the touch-oriented OS more agreeable to mouse-and-keyboard users, and to enable OEMs to produce cheaper devices of all form factors. Based on the newest market-share statistics, it's easy to see why the company is pushing these angles: Despite recent device price cuts and Windows 8.1's improvements, Microsoft's newest OS continues to perform modestly, on both tablets and PCs.

Research firm Gartner reported Monday that Windows tablets accounted for just 2.1% of the market in 2013, compared to 36% for iPads and almost 62% for Android slates. This figure is actually worse than the meager 3.4% Windows share that IDC estimated in December.

[Is Windows really losing share to Chrome OS? Read Where Are All The Chromebooks?]

Gartner found that Windows tablets more than doubled both in shipments and market share in 2013, a period during which iPads increased shipments by only around 14.5% and lost share overall. But given Microsoft's lowly starting position and late entry, this growth wasn't much of a victory. Android expanded at an even faster rate, and iPads, despite trailing overall market growth, maintained a stranglehold over the most lucrative segments. They also ended the year on an upward note, thanks to the introduction of new models.

"Apple's tablets remain strong in the higher end of the market, [forcing] vendors to compete with full ecosystem offerings, even in the smaller-screen market as the iPad Mini sees a greater share," Gartner research director Roberta Cozza said in a statement. Gartner noted that Windows has better share among productivity-oriented mobile devices but has "failed to capture major consumers' interest on tablets."

The OS's status is somewhat better on the desktop. According to web-tracking firm Net Applications, Windows 8 and 8.1 combined for 10.68% of desktop users in February, up slightly from January. Despite Microsoft's recent efforts to move customers off of Windows XP, which will lose service next month, the 10-year-old OS still commanded 29.53% of the market. February was the second consecutive month in which Net Applications recorded an increase in Windows XP usage. Windows 7 continued to lead the market, with more than 47% of desktop users.

As a free update for Windows 8 users, Windows 8.1 has had only a modest impact. (Image: Net Applications)
As a free update for Windows 8 users, Windows 8.1 has had only a modest impact. (Image: Net Applications)

Windows 8 and 8.1's 10.68% share isn't insignificant. All Mac OS X users combined represent only 7.68% of the market, meaning millions more people are running Windows 8/8.1 than are using any type of Apple PC. Nevertheless, Microsoft's newest OS trails earlier versions' precedents by a significant margin.

Indeed, the Net Application figures indicate troublingly soft Windows 8.1 adoption. The update is free to all Windows 8 users, but nearly 60% of Win 8/8.1 users are still running the original version. Given that Windows 8.1 addressed many of the complaints that limited demand in the first place, such indifference is surprising.

The coming update could help Microsoft increase Windows 8.1's share, especially in emerging markets where low-cost Android devices are particularly popular. A similar optimism seemed valid back in July, when Windows 8.1 was confirmed and Windows 8 controlled a paltry 5.4% of the desktop market. Since then, that user base has almost doubled, with growth trailing off over the last few months.

If the new update achieves a comparable result, Windows 8/8.1 could have close to 20% of the desktop market (which includes traffic from Windows 8.1 tablets) by this fall. That's certainly a formidable figure for almost any company -- but it would still represent only two-thirds the share that Windows XP has retained while sitting on its deathbed.

It would also leave Microsoft a distant third on the mobile scene. This problem isn't limited to the consumer markets. iPads dominate enterprise tablet deployments to almost the same degree Windows machines dominate in PCs. There's still money to be made in third place, especially for a company as diversified as Microsoft. But again, compared to historical precedents and the company's admitted ambitions, this sort of progress doesn't measure up.

For reference, Microsoft handled threats from netbooks much more effectively than it has tablets. "Most early netbooks tended to run Linux, but as they gained acceptance in 2008, more and more manufacturers offered them with Windows, and now Windows runs on 70% of netbooks sold," InformationWeek's Charles Babcock wrote in 2009. "That may seem like a lot, but Microsoft is used to market share of greater than 90% on PCs, and its margins on netbooks are lower."

For many Windows 8.1 devices, margins are likely even lower than during the netbook boom, which explains the stream of mostly unconfirmed reports that Microsoft has slashed license costs for OEMs. Rumors, some from reliable sources, also claim Microsoft is entertaining even more radical Windows changes, including a free version of Windows designed to monetize Bing and other services, and a version that runs both Android and Windows apps. Such rumors have popped up before, but given that the influx of new Windows users has decreased alongside margins, the claims aren't as surprising as they once were.

Whether Microsoft adopts such seemingly unlikely tactics will depend on not only the new leadership regime settling in under CEO Satya Nadella, but also the performance of the upcoming update. If low-cost devices and another update increase adoption of Microsoft services such as OneDrive and Office 365, the company can still come out ahead in the end. But for now, Windows 8.1's progress has lived up to neither the company's goals nor many users' expectations.

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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: Apprentice
3/5/2014 | 12:28:19 PM
What is wrong with Windows IMHO
I mostly use a Mac, and my wife uses Windows.  She bought a new laptop that came with Windows 8 and had a horrible experience.  Let me tell you why, but first my personal observation is that WIndows 8, as it stands, will never work for the above average user.  It is clearly designed for people with one window open to browse, email, facebook or play a game.


The first problem with WIndows was the bloatware.  The thing came loaded with games, backup software, security software, trial versions of things.  And there was no easy way to wipe it all off.  I had to patiently delete all the crap she did not want.  I know the haardware people get money for inconviencing their customers, but aat some point they will have to decide whether customers or software partners are more important.


The second problem was the conflicting software.  Having Microsoft and Intel and HP software trying to control the wireless is not a good idea. Likewise the printer.  I deleted all of that stuff and went back to basics.  The energy saving and so on is just not worth it.  Too many problems and delays in resuming, reconnecting to wireless and so on..


The third problem is the often criticised main wondow.  The laptop has a touchscreen, but frankly I use ctrl-x and ctrl-v to cut and paste so I do not have to move my hands to the ouse.  No way am I going to reachout to swipe the touchscreen.  It takes time, effort and makes the screen smudgy.  I have an iPad and if I was just going to read or browse I would use the iPad.


The 4th problem is that it was too different form what was before.  Had to leaarn new ways to invoke programs, find files and so on even though there was no advantage to the new way.  It may have been slightly better or slightly worse, but it waas different, and that is a problem.


So then I decided, screw it.  I will install Windows 7.  That was a trip.  First I had to discover quasi-secret BIOS settings to change the boot and the behavior of some on-board devices.  Then I had to find drivers and that was not so easy either.  Took me 5 hours to finally get 7 running, everything configured, and all her files restored.  ANd I have been in this industry as an engineer since 1972.  


SO to sum up.  Too much bloatware that I did not want.  Too confusing to use various control software from HP and Intel and Nvidea and the touchpaad vendor.  Nop benefit form the new UI.  No benefit form the touchscreen.  Eventually decided it was not worth it and found MSFT and HP did everything they could to makae it difficult to install Windows 7.


I had none of these problems with my Mac.  No bloatware.  SOme difficulties with UI enhancements, but not major.


My wife will continue to use Windows because a number of apps she needs either need Windows or Internet Explorer.  I will continue to use Mac, but I will admid that I run Parallels and Windows 7 on it for one reason.  Ecxel for WIndows is superior to Excel for Mac and I need Excel for work.


I think a brand new person buying their first PC will still have trouble with Windows 8.  That is too bad.


My servers at home run Linux by the way and I doubt I would ever change that.  And the Mac has enough compatiiblity with Linux that I do not need a Linux laptop.  
Li Tan
Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
3/5/2014 | 8:21:46 AM
Re: Windows 8.1
Another point is that, people get used to treat Windows as pure desktop OS. Nobody really considers it as OS for portables and pads. Furthermore, Windows 8/Windows 8.1 itself do not look very attractive. From first glance, there is no significant difference compared to Windows 7, which is dominating at the current stage. There is no attractive features/app that can lure users for upgrading.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/5/2014 | 12:30:58 AM
Re: Windows 8.1
Who cares?

As a previous commenter wrote, if they gave it away for free to XP users, people might care more about it -- but only if it runs well on those older machines, which isn't particularly likely.

Compare with and

Computers older than six years might have trouble running Windows 8.1, and I bet a lot of those XP boxes are older than six years.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/4/2014 | 11:58:25 PM
There are other aspects which make Windows 8 story a little better
One of the things that is currently going against Windows 8 (all versions of it) is that it is nearly impossible to have a pirated version. Pirated versions of all previous version were readily available and there are pataches which make them function as genuine OS and even recieve updates/upgrades from microsoft. In countries like India, China etc. this would result in much lesser sales. 

However for Microsoft, the revenue coming from Windows 8 would not be so low.

Secondly, Windows 8 presents a paradigm shift from normal windows OSes. For enterprise adoption it presents dual challenge: train IT guys and employs on the new OS and secondly ensure that employee productivity is not lost due to plethora of apps etc.

It will take time for users and IT departments to resolve these two issues. Only once they are confident of resolving these two, will they think of benefits  of Windows 8. Till such time most users of XP will migrate to windows 7 and not windows 8.

Microsoft needs to be patient. The new OS is good and over a period of time, it will become the OS of choice for most. It will take time though to happen.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/4/2014 | 11:48:33 PM
Windows 8.1
If updates of 8.1 is allowed for Windows XP , even with nominal charges, it may become extremely popular
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