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2011: Microsoft unveils its 'big bet,' Windows 8
In September 2011, Microsoft officially took the wraps off Windows 8, releasing a Developer Preview that was downloaded more than 500,000 times in the first 24 hours. It was the first public appearance of the new Metro interface. In a post at the time, I noted that Windows 8 was "full of great ideas" but also identified what turned out later to be a very big deal: "The transition between the new Start screen and the don't-call-it-legacy Windows Desktop and the new Metro style apps isn't as smooth as it could be."
Steve Ballmer had called Windows 8 a "big bet" earlier. In 2011, with Windows 7 still selling strongly, there was reason to be optimistic.
2012: Windows 8 launches
Under the leadership of Steven Sinofsky, Windows 8 marched through its milestones with precision. Microsoft delivered a Consumer Preview, a Release Preview, and then final code in a series of releases that led to a fall launch in New York City.
Shortly after that launch event, Sinofsky was gone, suddenly and unceremoniously. That turned out to be the first of many disappointments for Windows 8 in its first year, as buyers found themselves confused by the new interface, especially on conventional mouse-and-keyboard driven hardware. In a post a few months after the launch, I noted, "there’s no question that a lot of smart people have serious problems with the initial release of Windows 8."
2013: The big Windows 8.1 update brings back the Start button
One of the implicit promises of Windows 8 was that Microsoft would adopt a faster release tempo than its previous every-three-years schedule. The company delivered on that promise almost immediately, with the release of Windows 8.1 exactly one year after Windows 8. This wasn't just a service pack, either. It included major new features, including the return of the Start button.
As I noted in a first look, "This is a significant update that clearly represents much more than just a reaction to seven months’ worth of occasionally brutal customer feedback about Windows 8." The other thing that was happening at the same time was an increasing availability of touch-enabled hardware that was designed with Windows 8 in mind. Still, it's telling that "Start menu replacements" were the best-selling software products for Microsoft's new OS.