Windows 8.1: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

It's pretty safe to say that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Windows 8 has been a train wreck for the PC industry. In fact, Windows 8's radical departure has appeared to slow the PC market to the point where worldwide PC shipments posted their steepest quarterly decline ever in the first quarter. It also isn't helping matters that users have been very vocal about their distaste for the operating system's modernized experience from previous Windows versions.

As a result, Microsoft will be releasing Windows version 8.1 in "late 2013" in hopes to address some of Windows 8's the biggest complaints from users. The hope is that these measures will improve the user experience enough to improve the PC's prospects.

The good
Topping the list of Windows 8 complaints has been the omission of the classic Start Button/Menu that's been part of the Windows franchise since Windows 95. Naturally, Windows 8.1 brings back the Start Button/Menu combination, but reinvents the experience to be more tailored for the age of mobile computing and touchscreens. Instead of bringing up the familiar Start Menu, you can either be directed to the Metro Start Screen or the Metro Apps view. The former option is essentially useless for non-touch users and will not please die-hard Start Menu enthusiasts, but the latter option gives keyboard and mouse users a functional list of apps that isn't awkward or inefficient to use without a touch screen. In other words, non-touch users may no longer feel as alienated from the touch-preferred Metro interface.

Other Windows 8.1 notable features include improved search functionality, the ability to boot directly to the desktop, and the integration of Microsoft SkyDrive. Of the three, the ability to boot directly to the desktop could give deep-pocketed enterprises a reason to jump on the Windows 8.1 bandwagon.

The bad
Although the reintroduction of Start Button and Menu is a welcomed addition, ExtremeTech's hands-on review acknowledges that Windows 8.1 is a touch-friendly operating system first, and the keyboard, mouse, and desktop are "second-class citizens." That's understandable, considering 65% of all PCs end up in the hands of consumers and the world has had an extremely healthy appetite for tablet computing. In fact, IDC expects worldwide tablet shipments will surpass portable PC shipments this year.

Consequently, Microsoft's appeal to tablet users isn't necessarily ideal for "power users" who rely on a PC to be productive because these users may find that a touch-optimized operating system isn't fully addressing their needs. Perhaps there's a good reason why Apple has Mac OS for productivity and iOS for touch applications, as opposed to an all-in-one solution like Windows 8.1.

The ugly
The reality of the situation is that Microsoft has to repair Windows 8's poor reputation while also managing declining PC sales. The billion-dollar question for Microsoft is whether or not consumers have already moved beyond the PC thanks to the explosive rise of mobile computing. Perhaps when $300 touch-enabled laptops hit the shelves this holiday season, the attention will turn back to the PC. In the meantime, I'm not sure there's enough improvement built into Windows 8.1 to improve the outlook.  

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  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:19 AM, doawithlife wrote:

    I'd take apples over windows any day. Apples are juicy and taste good.

    Ohhh, ohh

    You mean apple stock. I thought you were joking.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 6:39 AM, 2fools4nun wrote:

    Well, as someone who no longer has stock in any of the tech stocks mentioned here, I can objectively say that 8 and faux-fix 8.1 are a nuisance to anyone who uses the computer for anything more then socializing. I've been called everything from lazy to dumb for not drinking MS Kool-Aid and just loving all the extra steps it takes to clumsily find the same old programs, I'm neither, I'm actually quite productive when given the right tools. 8 and 8.1 are not the right tools. I'm also quite tired of waiting for MS to get it right. From this point forward the only "dumb" thing I could do is to continue buying MS products. If I'm going to relearn how to use the computer, it will be with someone else's superior product

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 11:43 AM, VegasSmitty wrote:

    The only people that have trouble with Windows are people that are to dumb to even own a computer. They need to get an Apple toy.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:36 PM, AsokAsus wrote:

    bringing back the Start Button that does nothing more than provide yet one more means to take one back to the hated, productivity-killing, single-window, no-taskbar, touchy-feely, flashy-blinky Metro UI screen instead of actually restoring the Start Menu is hardly addressing the issue. It's more like a spit in the face to Microsoft's remaining PC users.

    Furthermore, if Microsoft was sincere in honoring the wishes of users who choose to boot to desktop in 8.1, they would also automatically alter ALL of the file associations that they ordinarily default to Metro back to any desktop programs that support those file associations. They would also restore the Start Menu.

    Of course, by not doing any of the above, the boot to desktop option is merely a hollow sop whereby Microsoft can pretend they are "listening" to their users and pretend they're still interested in the enterprise and SMB PC markets, because without the file association changes, one still mysteriously and automagically ends up back in the execrable Metro over and over again, creating chaotic confusion for most users who don't have a clue as to what is going on, where they went to, how they got there, and even worse, how to get OUT of Metro UI!

    Bottom line, Windows 8.xxxxxxx still doesn't have a snowball's chance in Hades of being adopted by the enterprise and SMB. That well has already poisoned, not to mention the fact that IT folks at these places aren't fooled by nonsense like Ballmer's "refined blend", which sounds like it was lifted from a bad 1970's TV ad for instant coffee crystals or a "premium" motor oil.

    The "refinded blend" of Windows 8.1 is akin to Coke "refining" New Coke by "blending" half original Coke and half New Coke and putting it in new cans and telling their customers that they were "listening" to them! Microsoft's users can tell the difference between a kick in the teeth and actually being listened to. This "refined blend" is being NOT listened to and it is NOT going to go well at all for Microsoft.

    The enterprise and SMB are still going to skip Windows 8.xxxx just like they did with Vista and hope Microsoft comes to their senses with Windows 9 after Ballmer is fired. And if Microsoft still insists on shoveling out cell-phone operating systems on the PC after Windows 8.xxx, then the enterprise and SMB will start to seriously look at non-Microsoft alternatives.

    Even worse though for Microsoft, it will become increasing obvious that Microsoft will never be anything but a niche player in the mobile market, and as a consequence it won't be long before they will be forced to more or less abandon the consumer market and attempt to refocus on B2B software and services in a desperate attempt to stay relevant in the modern world. (Hint: naming a crappy touch interface that everybody hates with the name "Modern" isn't sufficient to stay relevant in the modern world.)

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