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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.
2014: A second major Windows 8 update arrives
You thought Windows 8.1 arrived quickly? A second update, adding still more features aimed at mollifying unhappy desktop users, was released roughly six months after Windows 8.1.
And at the Build 2014 developers conference, Microsoft promised that it would be restoring the Start menu and allowing "modern" (the new name for Metro) apps to run in a window. It's not exactly a retreat, because the touch-first interface is still at the core of the latest Windows. But it's a quick admission that the problems with Windows 8 will take some time to resolve completely.
And as the occasionally hostile reactions to Windows 8 make clear, the Windows monopoly on personal computing, which was powerful enough at the turn of the century to bring the full weight of the United States Government down on Microsoft, has ended.