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Windows 8 updates, mini Surface tablets on the horizon

Diana Hwang

Microsoft has confirmed it will show the next Windows 8 update at the Microsoft Build 2013 developer conference in June, but the jury is still out on whether the next update will get enterprises to adopt the operating system anytime soon.

The news came through a Microsoft Windows Q&A blog post this week with Tami Reller, Microsoft's Windows chief marketing officer and chief financial officer, and separate public remarks by Julie Larson-Green, corporate vice president and head of Windows engineering at Microsoft.

I do not see Windows 8 or 8.1 -- with or without a Start button -- as an enterprise desktop.

Robert Fetten,
associate director of IT, 92nd Street Y

Reller said Windows Blue would be available toward the end of the year and reiterated Microsoft's broader Blue initiative to update its software at a faster rate and support a variety of mobile device form factors. Larson-Green said the Windows 8 update would be ready for the holiday selling season.

However, the Windows executives remained mum on what features Windows Blue will include.

"They are going to do some things they should have done with the original release," said Bob O'Donnell, an IDC analyst.

Indeed, published reports focus on the one area where Microsoft has been most widely criticized: the loss of the Start Button in Windows 8.

Microsoft was widely panned for delivering a drastically altered tile-based user interface dubbed "Metro." The radically different tiles caused a major backlash to Windows 8 adoption. End users upgrading or purchasing new computers with Windows 8 frequently turned on Windows Desktop mode because of its familiar look and feel.

Bringing back the Start button would be a good thing, O'Donnell said.

"You can't ignore 20 years of history," he said. "You can't walk away from that. It's disconcerting."

Microsoft has stated it is listening to customer feedback and there are indications that adding the Start button back may be an option.

Windows 8 upgrades on hold

Despite the potential for some cosmetic fixes in Windows Blue, enterprises have continued their slow pace for adopting Windows 8, especially if upgrades to Windows 7 took place within the past two or three years.

"I do not see Windows 8 or 8.1 -- with or without a Start button -- as an enterprise desktop," said Robert Fetten, associate director of IT at 92nd Street Y, a non-profit community and cultural center based in New York. "Windows 8 without a touch screen is just not user-friendly and will require too much intervention by PC support staff.

"But I do use Windows 8 on my personal laptop -- and I like it," he added.

Meanwhile, Reller said Microsoft has now shipped 100 million Windows 8 licenses worldwide, up from 60 million licenses announced in January of this year. However, the company does not publicly parse out enterprise licenses from consumer licenses.

The Windows 8 desktop operating system market has slowly crept up to 3.8%, compared with Windows 7 at 44.2%, Windows XP at 38.3% and all other desktop operating systems making up the remaining 13.7%, according to NetMarketShare data for April.

Meanwhile, Microsoft may be jumping into the mini-tablet market with a 7-inch mini Surface as part of its overall Windows 8 strategy.

During the company's third-quarter fiscal year financial analyst call last month, it hinted the back-to-school and holiday season would see the industry unveil a rash of new mobile technology. Microsoft also suggested that mobile devices would be a key component to its future strategy.

In general, tablets have affected how business users work, regardless of whether devices are based on Windows, iOS or Android.

"If you work in a wireless environment, have some kind of enterprise cloud storage, are able to encrypt/decrypt your documents and spreadsheets in real time as you load or save them, then this is the way to go," Fetten said. "I like taking my tablet to meetings so that I can refer to documents and spreadsheets and take notes. Everything is about mobility."


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