Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) launched Windows 8 last October with radical ambitions in mind. The Start menu was gone, and in its place was a tile-based interface that was a dramatic departure from what Windows users had grown accustomed to over the past 17 years, dating to the introduction of Windows 95.
Anytime you overhaul the user interface of something as long-lived and pervasive as Windows, there will be loud user complaints. Some level of users will always be resistant to change.
However, the steep learning curve on Windows 8 has made it a difficult transition, especially for larger companies whose users are accustomed to older versions of Windows. With the company looking to release a major update named Windows 8.1 that should be released later this year, let’s take a look back at Windows 8 to date and what should be expected from Microsoft’s major overhaul of the operating system.
Why go tile?
Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s reasoning for the dramatic changes to Windows was simple: Past versions of Windows didn’t translate well to the touch-based devices such as tablets that are exploding in popularity. By creating a tile-based interface, the company could make Windows relevant for both PCs and tablets, rather than create a separate version for tablets.
To date, results have been middling. At the start of May, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced that it had sold more than 100 million Windows 8 licenses, but little traction has been gained in tablets. More painfully, the slide in consumer interest around PCs continues. In the first quarter, PC shipments declined more than 11% according to industry tracker Gartner.
Microsoft admits mistakes, but sticks to its guns
While Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) isn’t ready to throw in the towel on its vision for the future of Windows, it is admitting to some bumpiness in Windows 8’s launch. On a blog post from earlier this month, Tami Reller, who serves as both CFO and CMO for the Windows division, acknowledged that Windows 8 is a “big, ambitious change.” She further noted that “change takes time.”
Further admission that Windows 8 might have pushed users too far out of their boundaries comes from its upcoming Windows 8.1 update, due out later this year. Up until recent weeks, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) had dribbled out hints on the update but now appears ready to talk. Most of the talk centers on the return of a familiar Microsoft icon: the Start button.
Bring back the Start button! Kind of.
As CNET notes, Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 update will come with a “Start Tip,” which sits in the lower left corner and allows users to return to a Start screen. This won’t return you to the Start menu you’re familiar with, but the Start screen will be customizable in a way that allows users to create a listing of applications that’s similar to the Start menus of past Windows versions.
For the most ardent critics of change in Windows 8, the 8.1 update is delivering something long-clamored for: an option to boot directly to the desktop. The fact that current versions of Windows 8 forced users to boot up in the tile-based interface has been the subject of much of the Windows 8 controversy.
More Microsoft products
Beyond the design compromises that allow users to go back to a more “traditional” experience, the other big change in Windows 8.1 appears to be more integration with Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) products. We’ve come a long way since Microsoft was almost split up for bundling Internet Explorer in Windows. The changes come not only in Microsoft’s dominance of computing, but also in the acceptance of bundling software with an operating system.