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Can Windows Blue Make Users Care About Windows 8?

Gordon Kelly by

Can Windows Blue make users care about Windows 8?

meIt is said apathy is the worst insult and by this token Microsoft must be fuming. In the five months since its release sales of Windows 8, the company’s self proclaimed revolutionary operating system, have been described as “on par” with Windows 7 despite a fire-sale launch price. And growth of touchscreen monitors, laptops and Windows RT-based tablets has been modest.

Furthermore, partners are unhappy. Both HP and Samsung have recently ditched Windows RT tablet launches, Acer and Asus have publicly stated Windows 8 demand is weak and Fujitsu even blamed the platform for its poor financial results at the end of last year. Never fear, Windows Blue is here. Well, kind of…

Windows Blue

In the Blue Corner

In the most convenient of leaks "from a Microsoft partner based in France", an all-singing, all-dancing beta of the major Windows 8 update codenamed 'Windows Blue' (pictured above) touched down this week. It installs smoothly, has no obvious bugs and brings a raft of new functionality which Microsoft hopes will inspire those as yet unmoved but its hybrid OS.

The feature list is long and includes re-sizable Live Tiles, new Snap Views for fitting apps side by side for better multitasking, access to the majority of core settings without the need to go into desktop mode and tighter integration of SkyDrive with options for it to automatically upload images and videos. There are also tweaks to improve the Charms interface, a preview of an even more touch friendly Internet Explorer 11 and new built in apps including dedicated alarm, calculator and video editing apps.

Dying Desktop?

Look closely at these improvements and you will see an obvious theme. They tie Windows 8 closer to the experience of Windows Phone 8 and lock users more tightly into Microsoft’s services.

More interestingly though, in bringing greater control and functionality to its touch-centric start screen, Blue has the potential to significantly reduce the time users need to spend in the desktop mode. In fact the desktop mode itself, while getting a technical bump from version 6.2 to 6.3, appears to have received no significant updates whatsoever.

desktop

Yes, while Microsoft’s marketing ploy with Windows 8 was its potential to be a hybrid and all things to all users, it is becoming increasingly clear with Blue that the focus is to gradually move users away from the complexities of the desktop altogether. With future editions of Microsoft Office surely not reliant on running in desktop mode that transition will become even easier and force third-party developers to increasingly make apps rather than programs that must be submitted through the Windows Store (along with 20 per cent of their profits).

Don’t Call It a Service Pack

At this stage whether Windows Blue will update Windows 8 to version 8.1 or 8.5 is unknown, but one thing is certain: they won’t be called ‘Windows 8 Service Pack 1’. Aside from its features, what is arguably even more central to Blue is the change it brings to Microsoft's software roll outs.

Historically Service Packs have always been irregular, unsexy, unseemly affairs that often served only to unite previously released tweaks and bug fixes under a universal name. With Blue Microsoft is looking to iOS and, in particular, Android as recent incremental updates to Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ with 4.1 ‘Jelly Bean’ and 5.0 ‘Key Lime Pie’ have garnered huge excitement. Microsoft wants this for Windows and while it is doubtful the Blue name will stick outside beta, it will signal the beginning of Microsoft’s move to similar regular, feature rich updates.

apps

Feeling Blue

All of which may not be enough. What dogs Windows Blue is not so much Blue itself or even some of the controversial paths it suggests Microsoft is beginning to follow, but that Windows 8 came to market half baked. This wasn’t the usual array of glitches or instabilities, more that the OS simply felt unfinished.

Hopping between desktop and start screen modes is jarring, touch-friendly app support has been notably weak and Windows 8 launch hardware was a fractured mess of expensive touchscreen and dull non-touchscreen devices with wildly variable pricing.

Since then app support has started to gain momentum (Windows Store passed 50,000 registered apps this month), there is an increasing amount of 8 excellent Windows 8 hardware and Blue will reduce the schizophrenic nature of jumping between desktop and start screen modes. Then again Windows Vista never shook off the reputation it gained for its inauspicious start and perversely Windows 7 has such a strong reputation many users see no need to upgrade from it.

Bolt from the Blue

All of which means Blue has its work cut out if it is to increase interest levels and bolster sales figures that have been predominantly driven by new PC purchases.

As it slipped behind in mobile, Microsoft devised Windows 8 out of equal parts desperation and inspiration and created a daring operating system that is both lovable and hateable, inspired and illogical, surprising and dumbfounding. Windows Blue will give it greater focus, clarity of vision and some controversy. All are needed for an OS which its creators dreamt would evoke anything but apathy.

Go to comments

Evilpaul

March 28, 2013, 2:45 pm

'Key Lime Pie' is not Android version 4.2, 'Jelly Bean' covers both versions 4.1 and 4.2.

MattMe

March 28, 2013, 2:57 pm

I feeling more and more frustrated by people claiming Windows 8 is 'jarring'. It simply is not. If you consider the start screen as a new full screen start menu (where you spend approximately no time whatsoever), it makes no difference to the way you use your computer, either with or without a touch interface.

Yes, the metro-styled apps are a new touch-orientated look and feel, and those apps are different to your Office suite, so there is a visual transition. Personally I think it works better this way. Your basic internet consumption and casual tasks are in a tablet format, and then when it comes down to it for productivity you're presented with a more formal working platform design to make best use of your existing keyboard and mouse setup.

It genuinely feels like a lot of folk are just confused or simply not open-minded enough to accept the move forward. MS have a big job on their hands here. They're trying for everyone's benefit to make best use of technology like touch devices etc. They're trying to make one system that suits everyone - enterprise, SOHO, new users and casual users, and they're trying to make it fit across all platforms, all whilst moving people from the same desktop/window interface we've become accustomed to over the last 20 years. It's no small thing, and personally I feel that it's being handled in a very smooth way, but there's a lot of resistance. I can understand it to a degree, not many people like change, and completely expected it at the start, however I would have thought that by now, if you'd really given it an honest chance, that it would be a comfortable operating system for all but the most limited and easily confused users.

Chris F

March 28, 2013, 6:15 pm

I agree to some point, but did it have to be so aesthetically sterile? And call me old fashioned but I can't see why they didn't leave the start button in the desktop interface.

MattMe

March 28, 2013, 9:32 pm

What aspects are aesthetically sterile? I can't say I've thought that. The new 'metro' aesthetics are akin to Android/iOS, only with more useful live tabs, and with added zoom feature for quickly moving amongst groups/screens.

The start menu is still there in the bottom left, as always. Only now it takes you to a full screen start page, which is actually more useful and visually appealing than a start menu. Does it really affect the way you use it? You don't need to see your desktop when you use the start menu in Windows 7, do you? And you can still add shortcuts to your desktop for the apps that you use in desktop 'mode' if you wanted.

Kas Eistra

March 28, 2013, 11:33 pm

Yeah, it is not Microsofts fault that users are confused by their user interface... Those silly users just don't understand or do not want to understand the interface. Microsoft spent millions on the development of the new Metro user interface. If the users do not accept this interface, that means that Microsoft failed.... And keeping in mind that they tried to create 1 system for every type of user and touch- as well as regular screens this is no big surprise. I am not a gambler, but even I know that betting on all the horses in the race is not a smart thing to do.

Chris F

March 28, 2013, 11:43 pm

Ideally, I would rather not have to switch between different interfaces in each computer, to make full use of the OS. In the case of the start menu, even if the name stays the same, the function has changed. As you said, the start menu takes you to another interface, the touch interface. I feel uncomfortable there unless i'm using a touchscreen. Plus I like my personalized pop up start menu, it really works for me.

Aesthetically, I find the tile design very uninspired, not given enough if any thought or attention, and the general styling went from (somewhat) colorful and 3D-like to flat and impersonal (the logo is a good example of the overall design). To be honest I find the mobile phone version disgusting, same tiles for everything with some text on it. The desktop version is better because you get to see more elements and a wallpaper, but I am still very annoyed by the faceless style. Well the font looks nice, i'll give them that.

MattMe

March 28, 2013, 11:55 pm

Oh, Internet sarcasm...

I'm not saying its perfect or that everyone should love it, or even get along with it straight away. My point was simply that it's not that different from any other windows OS, and certainly far from jarring or confusing. It's different, and therefor there will always be a number of people whom don't like the new direction.
Yes, all the eggs in one interface-basket was a gamble, and a huge undertaking, however you have to admit in the long run its a better scenario for most users than having one interface for their of, another for their games console, another for their tablet and yet another for their phones. Why not make them similar enough for the casual user to be comfortable with each straight away? It won't happen over night. MS aren't stupid, they've been at this long enough, and I'm sure they're aware it will take time. Possibly not until Windows 9 comes along will most people adopt, along with all their new touch screen hybrid laptops.

Please feel free to insert a sarcastic retort here, I don't have my beginners guide to Internet talk book with me right now. Thanks.

L4lefty

March 29, 2013, 3:11 am

@Mattme. People are entitled to claim Windows 8 is jarring. Why is that 'more and more frustrating' to you...Because you insist it simply isn't? It's a matter of opinion, is it not?
Kas Eistra challenges your perception with humerous banter and you retort by responding critically to internet sarcasm with...Internet sarcasm. Get off your self-important high horse, man! Stop being so defensive and just accept that not everyone feels as you do about Windows 8.
Personally, I find it jarring.

Gordon Kelly

March 29, 2013, 3:24 am

This was a typo, thanks. Fixed.

Kas Eistra

March 29, 2013, 9:24 am

I don't have to admit having one interface for all devices is a good thing. Actually, I think it is a bad idea. We are talking about user interfaces, these things should depend on the way you use a device, not a global design decision/strategy. And if you search for ways to make Win8 look and act more like Win7 on the internet, you'll see there are loads of people who do not like the choices made in the desktop edition. And while you are at it, try searching for "Windows 8 adoption rate" as well..

Kas Eistra

March 29, 2013, 9:32 am

What you meant to say: "droid/iOS, only with, to my opinion, more useful live tabs" and "Only now it takes you to a full screen start page, which I think is actually more useful and visually appealing than a start menu."

Please don't state things as facts. I actually don't like live tiles at all.. at least not as a starting point when I use my desktop pc. A full screen program launcher is something I like, however, I like the way Ubuntu implemented this a bit better..

MattMe

March 29, 2013, 10:26 am

Sorry, I was writing on my phone late at night, so probably didn't expand as much as I usually do. I didn't mean to sound as if what I was writing was fact, only opinion. I thought that much would be obvious, as this is a discussion forum.

Practically there is no benefit to having a start menu over the start screen. If you organsied and sorted the tiles it's exactly the same as a start menu, only quicker and easier to navigate. Those are facts. You may not prefer it (possibly because you haven' spent much time using it), however the functionality improvements are undeniable. Well, I say undeniable, but here we are, hey?

dourscot

March 29, 2013, 10:27 am

A fair review but the fundamental schizophrenia of Windows is still an issue. Most users are perfectly happy to run Windows in desktop mode. If they want a touch experience, guess what? They pick up an Android or Apple tablet.

QED.

meerkat82

March 29, 2013, 10:29 am

"it is becoming increasingly clear with Blue that the focus is to gradually move users away from the complexities of the desktop altogether... and force third-party developers to increasingly make apps rather than programs that must be submitted through the Windows Store"
So, they dig themselves further into that hole. MS need to recognise some people use Windows because it is a more open environment than Apple's; the more they try to emulate them, the more they alienate that segment of their customers
Also, when I sit in front of my computer and use a mouse and keyboard, I want to use an interface optimised accordingly, I don't want to imitate gestures with the peripherals I am using and be forced back to the modern interface. Likewise, if I use the tiles, I don't want to be dumped back to the desktop and imitate using a mouse with my finger
When they sort that out, I will upgrade, otherwise I will stick with Windows 7 until the end of my computer's life

dourscot

March 29, 2013, 10:30 am

This argument that users should "move forward" with Windows 8 is pretty bogus.

Users want to move forward, just not necessarily using the model offered by Microsoft. That is Microsoft's failing, not the users'.

MattMe

March 29, 2013, 10:31 am

Alright, I'm sorry. "Have to admit" is a figure of speech. I wasn't attacking you. Crikey, you're sensitive.
I remember when Vista came out you could get an XP theme for it. I laugh at those sorts of people because they're funny and deserve to be laughed at.
If you search for ways to make Windows 7 look like Windows 8 you'll see there are ways of doing that too. What point are you trying to make here?

Like I already stated, I didn't and still do not expect people to be fighting over getting hold of a Windows 8 device, it's a Windows PC. People only generally replace hardware depending on when they need to. Not many people I know bother with OS upgrades, they just wait until they need new hardware. Processors, storage and memory are all so good nowadays, even in cheap basic laptops, that people generally have no need to upgrade. And those interested in tech are probably waiting for the new Intel chipset and cheaper, more varied choices of Ultrabooks/touch devices and hybrids. Do you really think because of this design change people are going to drop their Windows platform and move to Apple (I laughed at the very thought) or start looking into Linux? Nope. It'll come with time.

dourscot

March 29, 2013, 10:32 am

Exactly. But some at MS want to make out that the problems with the Windows 8 interface are a sign of the stupidity of its user base.

The famous last words of many a deluded company.

MattMe

March 29, 2013, 10:34 am

True. If users don't buy it, then they'll go elsewhere and try alternatives. I can't see it personally, but it may happen.

dourscot

March 29, 2013, 10:35 am

Try opening a picture on the desktop using the file viewer. Now do the same from the start screen using the separate Metro app.

LOL. Pathetically slow.

MattMe

March 29, 2013, 10:43 am

Okay, okay. I'll admit. I hid my sarcasm in a cloak of sarcasm. Well done for cracking the code. No flies on you.

Humorous? Really? I can't say I laughed. Or smiled. I didn't even see that it was trying to be funny. We're obviously just not compatible. I'll cancel the flowers and chocolates.

My frustration, if I didn't make it clear enough already, is that if you were to actually use the OS with an open-mind, and in the way intended, for any useful amount of time you would see that it is not jarring, and quite simple to navigate using a mouse. I have introduced many people of varying degrees of technical experience to the new OS, and after simple explanation of the new way of working I generally get a "oh yeah, that makes sense" and everyone goes about their business. Nobody stares at the start screen all day. It's just icons.

I have no high horse. I'm actually quite scared of horses. I'm not saying it's perfect - far from it, there are a few touch-orientated gestures that aren't ideal for a mouse (such as closing an application), however I am still shocked that a "tech journalist" would describe this as jarring.

I accept not everyone feels the same way, if you actually read what I've written you'll see that. I am simply trying to help those who did find it jarring or uncomfortable. I am trying to change your mind, but for your benefit, not mine! You'll probably come across Windows 8 or similar (9) in the future, and if you just learn to use it as it is you'll be fine. And the you can spend your time stressing about the more important things in life, like bacon.

MattMe

March 29, 2013, 10:50 am

I agree - I preferred the pretty 3D Aero interface (think that's what you're referring to here). The glass effects on windows etc was quite nice.

I can't say I dislike the 8 interface or graphics though; it's simple and clean yet not too simple ala iOS.

I read somewhere one of the reasons they took that diretion with the graphics was to conserve battery life in small portable devices. Less graphics processing = less power consumption. I guess they could have left it there as a feature to turn on and off, but they didn't and that's a shame.

I'v only spent a day or two with the Phone devices on a few demo units I got through work, so don't have much exposure. Can't say I hated it, but it was quite different to other platforms. I think I'll go Android on my next device.

Kas Eistra

March 29, 2013, 2:37 pm

Most of the time "have to admit" is being used to point out some kind of fact, that everyone should acknowledge as such.. I just wanted to point out this is not the case with using a unified UI for mobile/tablet/personal and professional use. There are huge differences in the way you use these devices. By making an interface that is designed for touchscreen devices work on a PC MS made a mistake imho. On another note. Why call an OS that focusses on fullscreen apps "Windows"?
There are a lot of people switching OSes (Apple has quite a big marketshare of new sold pc/laptops) , there are even more people that have stopped using desktops/laptops as their go-to device and use a smartphone or a tablet, so there is an enormous shift in platform choice.

Tom Scharf

March 29, 2013, 5:56 pm

I've been using Windows heavily since Windows 3.0. I loved Vista. I have engaged in several Mac/PC flame wars from the Windows side. I am a software developer and use many different engineering programs only available in Windows.

I hate Windows 8, specifically Metro. It just seems so....useless. I'd like to use a better term, but really I greatly dislike it.

The apps running in Metro, I have to admit I use a politically incorrect term, is "Windows for Retards".

I have not found one metro app that does something better than an app I already have. This interface that MS is literally shoving down our throats just doesn't work for a power user, you know people who actually make a living with Windows as their primary tool.

People have had access to simple apps for a long time. Most people could use WordPad as their primary editor. But they don't. They want the power, and with it comes the complexity.

You cannot "Metrofy" a powerful application. It simply doesn't work.

If MS thinks everyone wants a phone interface on their business desktop, they would be wrong. Who is running the store now? Bring back Gates.

I find the fact you can't run Metro apps in a Window to be inexcusable. They are forcing a regime upon the user, and not going through the process of selling it to them on the merits first. It will be rejected. It's an arrogant move.

And like I said, I like Windows.

stripy

March 29, 2013, 10:24 pm

Except they don't need to go elsewhere, they'll just stick with 7 until either MS improves the desktop interface in 8 or linux catches on.

Just so you know, I actually really like 8 as a tablet user interface. I think it's much slicker than my android tablet and works really well.

The problem for me is I use multitasking in windows a lot at work. Being able to have two spreadsheets, a word doc and a database open at the same time is something I am never going to give up. I appreciate that you may not use windows in this way but I would guess that most business professionals do.

toboev

March 30, 2013, 8:28 am

when they ditched Windows Mobile and came up with Windows Phone, I thought it was because they finally understood that you can't run a desktop and a portable touch environment off the same interface.
Seems I was wrong

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