Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) released a preview of Windows 8.1 yesterday, which contained some desirable new features and improvements. Is 8.1 going to “save” Windows 8? No, but Windows 8 really didn’t need to be saved.
The reactions to 8.1 have ranged from Adrian Covert’s characterization of it as a “huge improvement” to fellow Motley Fool blogger Sam Mattera’s as “fundamentally broken.” After downloading and installing 8.1, I remain in the middle of the two extremes. I see Windows 8 as an innovative, but unfinished, experiment. Win 8.1 moves the OS a little closer to what I consider its final destination, and that’s a good thing for Windows users.
The best new feature is the new Start Button. The Start Button doesn’t quite work the way many had hoped, since it’s not a reversion to the desktop Start Menu of Windows 7. Instead it serves as a shortcut to the Home Screen.
What’s nice about the Start Button is the fact that it works the same regardless of where you are in the OS. The uniform Start Button provides a sense of convergence that had been missing in the Windows 8 split personality of Modern UI (MS-speak for the tile based interface) and the more traditional Desktop.
This split personality has always been my major qualm about Win 8, both from the standpoint of user interface design and as a business strategy. Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) set out to design an OS that would work on both tablets and non-touch screen portables and desktops. One has to wonder if this was not a bridge too far, but Windows 8 does anticipate a future of ubiquitous touch screens.
That touch screen future is something I fundamentally accept, despite being a supposedly biased iOS developer, and I admire Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) for being willing to reach for that future. In the process, Microsoft created an OS in which the Desktop mode and Modern UI (MUI) merely coexist. It was as if there simply wasn’t time and money enough to merge the two modes in a more thoughtful and complete way.
The down turn in PC sales that was identified in the reports of IDC and Gartner for the first quarter (Q1) do indicate some negative impact from the unfinished character of Windows 8. However, on May 7 Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced that Windows 8 had sold 100 million copies, a respectable number that to me indicates that Windows 8 doesn’t need to be “saved.” But the number wasn’t great news either. As Woody Leonhard pointed out in InfoWorld, Win 8 monthly sales have fallen to about 10 million copies/month from first month sales of 37.5 million. In contrast, Win 7 sold about 20 million copies/month for its entire lifetime.
8.1 will likely do little more for sales than maintain the current 10 million copies/month pace. Although it does make transitioning between the MUI and Desktop modes a little less jarring, true convergence is still in the future, probably not until the next full version of Windows. Is it even possible to converge the modes into a single unified OS and user interface that works well in all scenarios? I believe it is and that Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) are all working towards it.