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Windows 8.1 reinstates Start button

Microsoft’s OS pariah gets facelift, ticks right boxes with users

Windows 8.1 reinstates Start button
Ballmer: We pushed boldly, but got a lot of [negative] feedback.

Microsoft Corp yesterday rolled out the preview version of Windows 8.1 at its Build developer’s forum in San Francisco, reintroducing the treasured Start button and including a host of new features in a bid to lure disgruntled users back to Redmond’s flagship platform.

"It's very clear we could and should have done more," Tammy Reller, CFO, Windows Business, told FT in early May, in a clear indication that Microsoft had bowed to the weight of criticism over its venture into touch interfaces.

The first iteration of Windows 8 appeared to embrace tablets at the expense of traditional computing. Recent arguments by industry researchers have crystallised the PC-tablet debate by suggesting that tablets are for consumption task and PCs are for productivity. Others have suggested that flagging PC shipments worldwide may even be attributed to user hostility towards Windows 8.

Microsoft appears to have taken these arguments onboard in its design of Windows 8.1.

"Since we announced and shipped Windows 8, suffice it to say, we pushed boldly and yet what we found was we got a lot of feedback from users of those millions of desktop applications," said Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer at Build.

"If I was to put it in coffee terms, ‘Why don't you go and refine the blend here?’ Let's remix the desktop and your modern application experience. Let's balance them better."

By returning the fabled Start button to its rightful place on the home screen and giving users the option to boot directly into the desktop, Ballmer and Co have secured a cautious nod of approval from the industry. Tech sites were largely warm in their reception of the preview version and Microsoft shares closed up 2% at $34.35 on the Nasdaq exchange, according to Reuters.

But while taking a step back to its roots with the recognition of traditional computing as its bread and butter, Microsoft also indicated a commitment to the mobility market’s OS upgrade cycle, which is more frequent than Microsoft’s. Ballmer pledged to shorten this interval.

Another issue Microsoft has faced is that the smartphone version of its app is poorly represented. In an effort to convince developers to write for the platform, Redmond announced a deal with Facebook Inc, which is to build a Windows-exclusive app for an autumn release.

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