With Windows Blue, Microsoft may (finally) do the right thing

With Windows Blue, Microsoft may (finally) do the right thing

Summary: Call it capitulation. Call it listening to customers. But whatever you call it, making Windows 8 more usable with expected coming Blue tweaks is a positive, not a negative.


Over the past week, I've been surprised how many armchair pundits have lambasted Microsoft for its still not officially-admitted but largely expected decisions to add an optional Start Button and boot-to-desktop capability to Windows Blue.


There've been reports claiming everything from Microsoft is doing a 180-degree reversal with Windows Blue, to others advising the Redmondians to dig in their heels and stay the current UI course with its coming Blue update.

Windows Blue, from all leaks and tips I've received, is not a do-over. (If it were, it would take Microsoft a lot longer than nine or ten months to deliver it.) And ignoring customer confusion isn't a virtue; it's stupidity.

This armchair pundit finds it refreshing to hear Windows honchos admit that Windows 8 isn't selling as well as they hoped and that they want to make its successor more comfortable, familiar and usable for the Windows installed base.

In addition to the optional Start Button and boot-to-desktop options, there may be other interface adjustments in the works, according to one of my Blue tipsters. I hear the Windows team may also be tweaking the Charms to make them a bit easier to use with a mouse. There might be new built-in tutorials and in-context help coming to Blue. And word is there may be adjustments to the Start Screen designed to make Blue easier to use for Desktop users. One of my sources said some of these tweaks may not be in the Windows Blue preview release coming at the end of June, but that they still could make it into the final product.

If any or all of these tweaks make it into the final version of Blue, it's nothing but goodness. If you're a user who likes Windows 8 already, great. Just ignore new options and keep on keepin' on. If you're someone like me -- who is still running Windows 7 on two of my three Windows devices (with Windows RT running on my Surface RT) -- maybe Blue will make you reconsider whether you might find the new Metro-centric Windows a little more palatable because of these changes.

Last summer, before Windows 8 launched, I said I thought the operating system would face a rough road. My reasoning at the time was there were few PCs or tablets that made Windows 8 usable. And for those of us who might be interested in putting Windows 8 on existing non-touch hardware, the usability was questionable. Now that Windows 8's been out for about six months, I feel like my early inklings were true. I wouldn't call Windows 8 a disaster (with 100 million licenses sold), but I also wouldn't call it a barn-burner success.

My biggest criticism for Microsoft in all this isn't that the company is trying to make some adjustments to improve usability with Blue. Instead, I can't but help wonder why Microsoft -- with all its telemetry information, customer satisfaction data, and beta-testing input -- still went ahead with what its Windows execs must have known full well would be a confusing and less-than-optimal experience for many Windows users.

It's possible to project a bit by reading one of the recent blog posts of former Windows President Steven Sinofsky, who spearheaded Windows 8's development, for some insights into that question. In a May 8 post (a day after Microsoft's latest Blue disclosures), Sinofsky blogged about the damned-if-they-do/damned-if-they-don't choice that companies face when launching a disruptive technology:

"If you listen to customers (and vector back to the previous path in some way: undo, product modes, multiple products/SKUs, etc.) you will probably cede the market to the new entrants or at least give them more precious time. If technology product history is any guide, pundits will declare you will be roadkill in fairly short order as you lack a strategic response. There’s a good chance your influential customers will rejoice as they can go back and do what they always did. You will then be left without an answer for what comes next for your declining usage patterns.

"If you don’t listen to customers (and stick to your guns) you are going to 'alienate' folks and cede the market to someone who listens. If technology product history is any guide, pundits will declare that your new product is not resonating with the core audience. Pundits will also declare that you are stubborn and not listening to customers."

The Windows organization that Sinofsky left behind in November is facing this very choice right now, and seems to be heading toward Option A (after already trying Option B under Sinofsky).

Given Microsoft's installed base of 1.4 billion and the reticence of some of its key partners to back Microsoft's claim that the whole device world is going touch (something else I have to say I'm relieved to hear), I am liking Microsoft's new direction here. 

I believe Microsoft can stay its Metro-centric, touch-centric course with Windows Blue, while still making some changes that will make the OS more usable and comfortable fora bigger pool of users. While it would have been great if Windows 8 debuted this way last October, I say better late than never.

Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Microsoft, Tablets, PCs, Windows 8


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Sounds good

    I like Metro and prefer 8 to 7, but I think that there is much that can be done to help with users' confusion. I managed a PC support area for 20 years, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to shut down the computer the first time I used it. Moving a mouse to a particular corner of the screen isn't obvious at all without onscreen help. Once you learn the basic gestures, I really like the experience. I much prefer running apps full screen and swiping between them to using overlapping windows, I have used virtual desktops on Linux and Spaces/Mission Control on Macs for years. The store is head and shoulders better than previous OSs for installing Windows apps. I think that boot to desktop is something that enterprise customers will like to minimize training costs.
    • Linux is also a pain...

      Linux is certainly faster (Windows is particularly slow when dealing with tons of small files...Ick!), is probably more stable (Though since XP, I haven't had too many stability issues on Windows, other than issues with graphics drivers), and is indeed free. However, it's also a pain. Dealing with software dependencies and compiling things yourself is not fun, and I say that as someone who writes software for a living (Admittedly, I'm only a very light user of Linux, and only use it when I have to).

      Package managers help, but are often lacking a lot of software, and have their own issues. Linux now also seems to have just as many hidden settings as Windows. I've had lots of fun trying to get the right version of the right JDK overriding the others, for example.

      I think binary compatibility is the real weakness of Linux. GBD also scares me. Lack of readily available documentation is also an issue. I can generally figure out how to do something on Windows by a Google search and clicking the first result. On Linux, both for Linux APIs and dealing with the shell, this is almost never the case.
      • Compiling?

        Never "compiled" anything on Mint Linux.
        D.J. 43
        • Don't do much fiddling I take it!

          Haven't needed to do it much, but it does happen!
          Try fixing dodgy dedicated Graphics card drivers with out a sudo command! Not truly compiling but fiddle for normal folk!

          To be fair, repairing Windows from time to time need the command line too, but it's a bit simpler!
          • Sudo... Compiling??


            You realise you're comparing running a command as administrator to a task more complicated than a complete reinstall of the operating system.. A task you just don't need to do. Ever. Ubuntu, or it's mint clone - or fedora, suse... Since I left gentoo in 2009 I've never had to compile a kernel.

            That argument can be resigned to the likes of "argh! My A:\ drive isn't recognised!"

            You do get hardware driver issues with rarer hardware.. Then you just have to hit google...
          • Aaah so you didn't read all my post!

            and missed the bit where I said "Not truly compiling but fiddle for normal folk!"
          • Rarer hardware?

            It was a standard in use Nvidia Video card and I've had the same issue with more than one computer running older Nvidia cards. Not to mention the driver WAS available and recommended by the OS. I fixed the problem, but the continue argument by Linux Fanboi's is how easy it is to use. Issues like this are not easy for your standard end-user or for that matter a standard Windows Tech. I only knew how to fix it because I deliberately keep using Linux on my spare machines just in case I need the knowledge.
          • I've been running and supporting Linux for about 8 years now...

            starting with Puppy Linux and now Mint. While I have compiled a few apps or drivers it was usually for software/hardware that normal people (aka my clients) would not ever run into or if they did they would call me to do it for them... Just like they have for 20 years of DOS and Windows support.

            I rarely use Windows these days. I only fix other people's malfunctioning machines. My clients that switched to Linux I seldom ever hear from. So, from a support perspective, from someone who supports large numbers of both OSes I have to say Windows is more of a pain.
        • Getting a bit ropey again on Suse... Simple AV has been deprecated as far

          I was singing the virtues of Linux as a free alternative to other OS then upgraded my little test PC form to Suse 12.2 to 12.3 (I think). Now wmv/asf requires a paid-for codec. Yes you can use VLC and maybe others BUT I see Firefox is a pain with some embedded videos, and now Flash wont be upgraded past it's already lowly point either.
          Sounds like the beginning of the end for Linux working as easy as possible out of the box. Unless your average user can plop a build CD in and have a system working a few hours later there's little point in considering it as a viable alternative to Win8. My main system works well with Win8 and is fast. It configured itself easily, sees my network without hassle, accesses my NAS and WHS drives simply (as you'd expect). All of that is a hassle with Linux and beyond most 'users' as far as I'm concerned. Linux has had plenty of time to make itself more user friendly but is shooting itself in the foot again. Real users don't want to 'tinker'... they want to power on, do some work, and power off. Win8 allows that.
          • RE:

            Linux wasn't designed to satiate people's desires for an easy-to-use operating system. It was designed by Linux Torvalds to be Unix-like, because he didn't want to be stuck with DOS on his own personal computer. Over time it has evolved to become more user friendly, but it's not trying to win a serious market share -- why would it be, when it's free?

            There are Non-oss packages which you can install in OpenSuse, by adding that repository to the package manager. The small annoyance which you are describing can easily be fixed with a little thinking. Linux takes patience, and some reading. If you really want to get deep into it, you can read man pages which go to great lengths to explain the features of different programs.

            In this consumption happy society, with people involved in mostly mindless personal pursuits, Linux obviously is not going to be an option for many.
          • He was not talking about what it was "designed" for

            First it was not designed by Linus Torvalds, it was a direct clone of Unix, and POSIX.

            It does not matter what it was designed for, this person was commenting about what IT IS, and how it is going now.

            It's been well over 20 years since that "design" time anyway, and it still suffers from immaturity problems.

            That is the issue he was talking about.. who cares what it was designed for, what is it INTENDED for today ??
          • RE:

            The kernel was written by Linus Torvalds, while Richard Stallman wrote the GNU compiler. And it is not a direct clone of Unix. It's Unix like. Are you retarded?
          • Just for your edumacation

            Linux (Listeni/ˈlɪnəks/ LIN-əks[6][7] or /ˈliːnʊks/ LEE-nuuks)[8][9][10] is a Unix-like computer operating system assembled under the model of free and open source software
          • RE:

            He is free to comment about what he thinks, not what "IT IS", because what "IT IS" is just an opinion coming out of his arse, just like your opinion which backs up your fellow MS fanboi. I'll stop talking about design, because obviously you are incapable of grasping some very simple ideas. Have fun with Windows 8!
          • yes linux was developed by Linus torvalds.

            he wanted to build an OS to his liking based on the Unix platform. the code base for linux has nothing of unix in it.
          • Free Linux

            People keep pointing out that Linux is FREE. Considering it's VERY small share of the OS market, what do you think would happen to Linux if they started charging for it? IMHO nobody would buy it, and certainly NOT for the price tag that consumers pay for Windows. Linux would definitely be "history".
          • linux was meant to be free

            of course it is free. give away Linux for free for everyone to use then charge for it like say Windows, sure it would kill linux. it isn't rocket science
          • Getting a bit ropey again on Suse... Simple AV has been deprecated as far

            Yup power on WindoZe get a virus and pay throgh the nose over and over again
            for the rest of your life.

            Windows is a farce.
          • LOL YOur funny.

            Do you envision that some completely inept person who has never used a computer before is reading this article and basing their decision of which OS to buy on the comments?

            Because I find it very hard to believe that anyone is being fooled by nonsense like this. There are billions of windows computers making the entire global economy run. But sure, tell people that as soon as you turn on a windows computer it gets a virus. I'm sure they'll believe you.

            You should change your name to ITJohndumbass.
          • RE:

            Windows runs the entire global economy? Is this why most of the internet runs on Linux? Shouldn't a Windows fanboi like you always remember to capitalize the 'W' when you spell "Windows"?