Commentary
6/27/2013
09:37 AM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
Commentary

Microsoft Understands Its Windows 8 Mistakes, Finally

At Build conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer acknowledges that aspects of Windows 8 have bugged users -- and promises to address the issues.



10 Hidden Benefits of Windows 8.1
10 Hidden Benefits of Windows 8.1
(click image for larger view)
On the tables inside the press room at the Microsoft Build Conference -- a room full of computer-savvy tech press and industry analysts -- lay printed instructions for how to complete a Wi-Fi connection in Windows 8. Just Windows 8.

"Enter Desktop Mode by pressing (Windows Key) + D," the 8.5 x 11 Wi-Fi lesson began. In contrast, the clerk at my hotel handed me -- and anyone else with a reservation -- a fortune cookie-sized slip of paper that provided nothing more than a SSID and network security key.

I noticed a few others who picked up on the irony. Like me, they chuckled to themselves, and then snagged a copy of the how-to as a novel keepsake from this watershed moment for the software giant. The event staff quickly replaced each one that had been plucked from the tables, ensuring that no journalist would have to undertake the endeavor without one.

Indeed, the photocopied tutorial serves as a comical exclamation point to what CEO Steve Ballmer tried to drive home during his opening keynote address: that Microsoft gets it. And it's doing something about it.

[ Is a restructuring really in the works? See Microsoft Reorg Rumors Heat Up. ]

Ballmer told attendees Wednesday that the company has gotten the message that Windows 8 has been a difficult adjustment for many users. The feedback, "in coffee terms," he said, was "why don't you go refine the blend here?"

That's an awfully magnanimous way to put it. But no matter. The important thing here is that the company's fixing what's irked users since the day the maligned OS was announced last October.

Developers cheered Wednesday when Ballmer told that them that they'd get their precious Start button back, and that they could boot straight to the desktop if they wanted to. They cheered louder for those two items than just about anything else, save for the tablets Microsoft promised to give them. And, possibly, for the news that the Microsoft Store finally -- finally -- is getting Facebook.

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Microsoft also seems to be trying to mend fences with PC OEMs. It needs to. Some OEMs are still frosted today, almost exactly a year after Microsoft surprised them with news of the upcoming Microsoft Surface line. Several PC makers that were working closely with the company on Windows RT devices felt that Microsoft betrayed their trust by developing hardware to compete with them, yet didn't see fit to tell them about it until just a few months before release. Acer, in particular, was pretty vocal about its displeasure.

As well, many OEMs feel ignored by Microsoft because the company hasn't bothered to align the timing of OS releases with today's hardware cycle, as I pointed out last month.

Ballmer didn't specifically say he would rectify that, though he offered a ray of hope by promising to pick up the pace of Microsoft product releases. "Rapid release! Rapid release!" Ballmer said, delivering the message in trademark machine-gun style. "You can think of that in a sense as the new norm."

In the meantime, Microsoft has taken steps to minimize the inconvenience of buying a new PC ahead of the Windows 8.1 release. For one thing, the company has pledged to make the Windows update free to all existing owners of Windows 8.

Further, Microsoft signaled that it understands the importance of pairing new systems with the company's latest OS by announcing that the Windows 8.1 preview was available for download.

In the meantime, Microsoft's Surface took a backseat at the conference to devices from third-party OEMs. That could be in deference to OEM partners. Or it could be that Microsoft won't be refreshing its tablet lineup before fall.

What was front and center, however, was the Iconia W3 from Acer. Ballmer showed it off, and also announced that Microsoft would be giving away the 8-inch tablet to attendees. As well, Windows VP Julie Larson-Green demonstrated the new capabilities in Windows 8.1 tailored for small-tablet form factors. Microsoft is rumored to be working on a mini version of the Surface, and the conference would have been a great stage for priming the market for the upcoming hardware. Larson-Green passed on that, however, and instead used Acer's Iconia W3 to highlight the features.

Coincidence? It's possible, I suppose. But I'll put my money on the squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease square on the board by the roulette wheel.

So Microsoft gets it. And it's trying to make things right. That's a great start.

With a little luck -- and, ideally, a sustained focus on its constituents -- Microsoft can repair its products and its ecosystem. And those of us who socked away the "how to connect to Wi-Fi in Windows 8" instructions will have nothing more than a memento from a day gone by.

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