WP Bloomberg, Published May 30 2013
Microsoft upgrades Windows addressing user complaintsSEATTLE — Microsoft is restoring some old Windows features and rolling out new ones in a bid to reignite interest in its flagship operating system, after customers complained about the software's usability.
Windows 8 debuted in October for tablets and personal computers with a tile-based layout for selecting programs, replacing a desktop design that let users start programs from a button. An update later this year will restore the start button, while adding search capabilities and other features, said Jensen Harris, director of program management for Windows.
Microsoft, which redesigned its main product to appeal to users switching to mobile, touch-based computing, has failed to jump-start growth in the ailing PC market with Windows 8. While tweaking designs and adding features will help, Microsoft needs more applications running on Windows and a greater variety of low-cost machines to stem the defection of consumers to tablets.
“I'm not sure this helps them restore demand by itself,” said Wes Miller, an analyst at Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft. “Bringing people back to Windows is a question of apps and a device-cost question — right now you have to pay a premium price in general.”
The update will let users set their machines to run the previous desktop design as a default, rather than the new tiled layout, Harris said. Windows 8.1 will also offer greater flexibility to tweak the start screen's tiles, he said.
Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., said it will release a test version of the Windows update on June 26. The company will ship the final product later this year as a free update for Windows 8 customers, the company said.
Users who are unfamiliar with the new design of Windows 8 had complained about the removal of the start button and menu, and that Windows 8 machines only booted up to the new tiled design.
In the update, the start button is visible when users touch or move a mouse at the screen's bottom-left corner. Previously, Microsoft had a small image in that corner which also brought up the start screen. The latest changes to Windows represent a move forward rather than a retrenchment, said Antoine Leblond, vice president of Windows program management.
“This is anything but a U-turn,” Leblond said in an interview. “There's no question that our view is this modern world is the future, and we want more apps developed on this part of the platform.”
While Windows 8 allowed users to run two programs side by side, the update will add the ability to adjust how much of the screen is given to each one. For larger displays, the software will let users open as many as four applications at once.
The lock screen for Windows 8.1 will feature a slide show of photos, and users will be able to answer Skype Web-based calls without unlocking the machine. The automatically updating tiles come in new sizes, from a small one to fit more apps on the screen to a very large format that shows several recent e- mails.
The changes are being introduced as Microsoft faces a second straight year of shrinking PC shipments, according to IDC. While tablet shipments are projected to climb 59 percent this year and outpace PCs in 2015, sales of Surface, the Microsoft's tablet computer featuring Windows 8, are off to slow start, falling short of predictions, people familiar with the matter said in March.
One issue, particularly for tablet customers, has been the lack of applications for Windows 8, compared with more than 350,000 apps for Apple Inc.'s iPad. Windows now has about 79,000 apps, according to MetroStore Scanner, a website that tracks how many apps are in the Windows store.
While the Windows 8 update is a concession by Microsoft that the new operating system may have turned off some customers, the software maker isn't backing away from its new design, Miller said.
“That's not giving in — that's just changing it to be more usable,” Miller of Directions on Microsoft said. “People need to realize Microsoft isn't just going back to the way Windows 7 was.”