Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT ) Windows operating system has had a bit of an identity crisis lately. And who can blame it? The operating system is nearly 30 years old, and it's transitioned -- quite well, mind you -- through a lot of tech trends.
But the mobile world, with its fancy touch screens, threw Windows for a loop the past couple of years. Microsoft tried to bridge the gap between touch and traditional PCs with Windows 8, which hasn't gone as smoothly as the company had hoped. Luckily, with the recently announced Window 8.1 update, Microsoft is taking a few steps to bring its beloved and beleaguered Windows back on track.
If it ain't broke
Microsoft's big changes for Windows 8.1 are geared at making its desktop and laptop users a little happier -- or at least confusing them less. Many of the changes bring back functionality that traditional PC users will find familiar.
Here are a few changes Microsoft is making in the new Windows 8.1 update:
- Ability to pin new Windows apps to the desktop taskbar
- An app search bar on the desktop homepage
- PCs and laptops automatically boot to the desktop screen
- Windows Store apps can now be minimized and closed from a title bar at the top of the screen
- The taskbar can be viewed from any screen
- Right clicking a live tile can change its size, uninstall the app, or change other settings
Why Microsoft needs these changes
The company needs to give its Windows users every incentive possible to switch to Windows 8, and 8.1. According to Net Applications, Windows 7 makes up 48.7% of all Windows OS market share, and Windows XP makes up 27.7%. Meanwhile Windows 8 and 8.1 take up a combined 11%.
Obviously Microsoft wants users to be on its latest software, but the drastic difference between Windows 7 and Windows 8 have kept many from moving to the latest version, or encouraged the upgrade from XP to 7. By tweaking Windows 8.1, Microsoft hopes to lure back its desktop and laptop users who've been frustrated with Windows 8's original focus on touch screens.
Foolish final thoughts
Microsoft needs users to be happy with the latest software, because it makes up a big portion of its revenue. For the company's quarter ending in December, Microsoft's Devices and Consumer segment -- which includes Windows OEM sales, Xbox, Bing, and Surface tablets -- made $11.9 billion.
Windows OEM revenue declined 3% year over year, while Windows OEM Pro revenue grew by 12%. But PC sales are on a downward trend in the midst of mobile's growth, and Microsoft said in its latest earnings release that there's "continued softness in the consumer PC market."
I think the Windows 8.1 update addresses a lot concerns desktop and laptop users had with the latest OS, but it'll still take some time to convince people to upgrade. For businesses that saw Windows 8 as a really drastic change from XP and 7, it may take years before they switch, even with the latest changes.
Microsoft was late to mobile, but it can't afford to miss this
While Microsoft is retooling Windows to appeal more to mouse and keyboard users, it's also in the midst of playing a game of catch-up in mobile, with its Windows Phone OS and Surface tablet. But there's another wave of tech the company needs to get ready for -- wearables. While Microsoft may not be ready for it yet, investors don't have to miss out. Click here to get the full story in this new report.