Can the new Windows 8.1 bring back users?

Can the new Windows 8.1 bring back users?

Summary: At long last, Microsoft has given up force-feeding the Windows 8 Metro/Modern interface on users. Have they done it in time to keep their user-base?


First, because I can't resist, let me just say "I told you so!"

I'd said all along that Windows 8's Metro interface was downright awful for desktop users. I was right. Windows 8 saw PC sales plummet to their worst level in a generation. Under new leadership, Microsoft has finally bought a clue and is retrofitting Windows 8.x's Metro/Modern desktop with a much more keyboard- and mouse-friendly Windows, Icon, Menu, and Pointer (WIMP) interface.

New Windows 8.1 Start button and Taskbar

I can only ask, "What took you so long Microsoft?" Popular programs, such as Stardock's Start8, showed that Windows power users craved their Start Menu. Besides, Windows 8.x's abysmal usage numbers were even worse than Microsoft's previous all-time operating system flop, Vista. It doesn't take the next coming of GE CEO genius Jack Welch to realize when a core product has failed.

Be that as it may, Microsoft has gotten it now. The new Windows 8.1 update looks much better to Microsoft's core customer base than its predecessors. Even I think it's OK, and if I haven't been Windows 8's harshest critic, I'm in the running.

But, is it enough? Or, is it too late?

A close-up look at the Windows 8.1 Update

I don't know.

I do know that there are a lot of disillusioned Windows users out there. On the other hand, since this update has been timed to come out at the same time that XP's support is coming to an end, Microsoft is clearly hoping that XP users will make the move to the latest Windows 8 rather than say iPads; Chromebooks, or, even desktop Linux distributions such as Mint .

I'm sure many of those XP users will move to this new Windows 8. But enough?

First, Microsoft has burned through a lot of customer good will in the last few years. Some Windows users are frankly not that impressed with the new update.

At the same time, Microsoft has given its users a way to use Apple iPads with Office. Since Apple and Android tablet sales have been rising even while Windows PC sales have fallen, this move strikes me as undercutting their own primary market at a time when it's already in trouble. How wise can this really be?

Lest we forget, Microsoft also decided to get into the hardware business itself with its Surface line. The hardware vendors saw this as Microsoft stabbing them in the back. This, combined with PC's horrid sales, had led OEMs to selling Chromebooks and to even trying out the idea of running Android on PCs instead of Windows. These weren't small, no-name companies moving away from Windows. This was the top of the PC industry: HP and Lenovo. In the meantime, AMD and Intel have been working on bringing Android and Windows to the same PC.

Can Microsoft woo its hardware partners back? It's going to take more than just a better version of Windows. I suspect that behind closed doors, Microsoft brass will be offering OEMs deals almost as sweet at its no cost Windows Phone effort to claim some mobile market-share.

It's going to be very interesting to watch how this plays out. By this time next year we'll know if Microsoft has managed to reclaim its users' and vendors' mind-share, or if we really are seeing the end of the PC computing market in favor of a mobile, cloud-based computing paradigm. At this point, I could see it going either way.

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Topics: Enterprise Software, Microsoft, PCs, Windows, Windows 8

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  • Yes SJVN

    It was all you that had Microsoft do this.
    • Can the new Windows 8.1 bring back users?

      Get the popcorn...and watch the show...
      • The shows has started

        Been using Update 1 all day long now. I must admit, it WAY better on traditional desktop systems. You can actually close apps now, instead of the awkward downward mouse drag. I also like the pinned store apps on the taskbar. Right mouse clicks also work now for almost everything. Nice update.
        Sean Foley
        • It's not about being good or better

          It's about public opinion - which may have been formed through personal experiences or through media - being that Windows 8 is no good while every odd version of Windows is great. It doesn't matter how good or bad anything is, the public opinion seems to be that Windows 8 is hard to use and even unstable. The same public opinion also says that Windows XP, 7, and 9 are great. It doesn't really matter what Microsoft does with Windows 9. It could even have the exact same interface as Windows 8.1 1, and it would be hailed as the perfect OS and sell like hotcakes.
          • Unstable?

            I can't think of a single instance where anyone, save for ABMers, who have attributed instability to Windows 8. To the contrary most everyone loves every aspect of Windows 8 save for Modern.
          • Don't get me wrong

            Don't get me wrong. Windows 8 is certainly not unstable. But a surprisingly large amount of non-techies who never even used it seem to think it is.
          • ... its about looking better **in the shops**!!

            as soon as the 'old' GUI is in the shops, and people can test that, it will only start...

            BUT there are already a HUGE lot who have just decided to keep win7...
    • Except that he never maintained that.

      He simply pointed out that he was right saying the Windows 8 modern interface was very much disliked by a lot of people. The only people, really, who disagreed with him were rabid MS apologists (many of whom were probably in MS' marketing department).
      • That explains everything.

        So tell me, how much does SJVN pay you?

        According to your logic, a large number of Windows 8 supporters work for Microsoft, right?

        Clearly, the same should apply to SJVN supporters, right?

        You can be honest here, we won't leak your secret.

        I'm guessing 10 cents per post. Am I right?

        (Moral: Don't make false assumptions in a poor attempt to insult people)
        • He can't help it

          When you comment on something you haven't researched the facts on, all you can do is assume.
      • Or people who have actually used the newer UI.

        And by used I mean more than the obligatory one-week-I-hate-it run through the screens.
        Mark Richey
    • He didn't say that

      He did admit to being one of Windows 8's harsher critics, but you already knew that.

      Rather, I think his point was that he said Windows 8 was awful, and that it seemed like a lot of users agreed with him.

      But given his dislike of MS and Windows (which I share, BTW), calling the new interface "OK" is high praise indeed.
      John L. Ries
  • It never cease to amaze me

    That the solution to UI changes you don't like is to switch to a completely different OS with a completely different look and feel and completely different applications.

    If people don't like change, any change, then why would switching to Linux magically make them accept and embrace change?
    • whether it amazes you or not, it does happen

      Just look at all the Ubuntu people who left for Mint, because they hate Unity. Whether it is rational or not, I can't say. But it is definitely a thing that can happen.

      Less likely in Microsoft's case, as the only alternative to Windows where you're going to find most of the same apps is getting a Mac, and that's too pricy for a lot of people.
      • Or

        in my case being between a rock and a hard place. The only UI I dislike more than Windows 8 is OS-X. But, the apps I use aren't on anything but those two OSs. So, I stick with W7.
    • I guess you missed the part where he was saying

      Mint's advantage is that it looked a lot closer to XP than Windows 8 did.
      • Looking like XP is a plus

        I think XP is old and dated looking. Windows 8 is still great, I learned the new functions, some were good some were not as nice, but in the end Windows 8 was a step up. The people that hated it, did not like Windows anyway and do not like changes. I have both a touch system and a non touch system, this update will make windows on non touch systems a little easier, but really nothing I was concerned about.
        • W8

          You got it mostly right, my experience is people hate W8 because they are afraid of change and/or very complacent
      • Looks closer

        But there will still be a difference in how it works.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • the Ladyboy logic

        yeh just like a Ladyboy looks more like a girl but doesn't operate like one physically.
        So Windows 8 is like a girl that cross dresses sometimes - big deal.