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Microsoft Windows 8.1 updates to bring back familiar features

Microsoft added more keyboard and mouse usability features for non-touch Windows 8 devices and enhanced compatibility for legacy IE 8 enterprise apps.

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Bowing to market pressure, Microsoft's Windows 8.1 updates will enhance usability for non-touchscreen devices, expand Windows 8 hardware design requirements and improve compatibility with older versions of Internet Explorer.

The latest moves by Microsoft are part of the company's strategy to push Windows 8 and Windows Phone devices into the enterprise and developer communities, where Windows 8 has not caught on.

"Microsoft can't be a closed, unique environment anymore," said Jack Gold, principal of J. Gold Associates LLC in Northborough, Mass. "That also extends to Windows 8.1 on the PC level. They can't force users to move to a system that doesn't work well for them. They're backing off and saying, 'We made a mistake and [will] try to do better.'"

Microsoft clearly is still a major player, but it doesn't have the center of gravity and is finally reacting accordingly, Gold said.

"If they don't, they're going to get creamed," he said.

Windows 8.1 updates bring familiarity

The forthcoming enhancements to Windows 8.1, due this spring, are intended to enable mouse and keyboard users to better navigate through Windows 8.

Some of the touch-enabled features were not as fine-tuned for keyboard and mouse users, acknowledged Joe Belfiore, vice president of operating systems at Microsoft, during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. In addition, changes such as the power and search selections are now located on the Start screen next to the user account, rather than in the charms bar.

"They are classically expected to be [there] for those people who don't have touch," Belfiore said during the press conference.

Windows 8 adoption:
By the numbers

Microsoft claims it has sold 200 million Windows 8 licenses. However, that number is still shy of the pace for Windows 7 adoption, which captured 240 million licensees after 12 months.

To date, Windows 7 has 47.5% market share, Windows 8 and 8.1 are at 10.6%, Windows XP has 29.2%, and Windows Vista has 3.3%, according to NetMarketShare's January 2014 report. Mac OS X, Linux and others combined totaled 9.4%.

Microsoft will also improve the usability for starting, closing and switching among applications using the task bar and right mouse clicks.

In addition, there will be better compatibility with Internet Explorer 11 and IE 8, the version of IE in Windows 7. Enterprises performing test deployments with Windows 8 and IE 11 encountered incompatibility problems with internal Web applications that dated back to IE 8, Belfiore said.

Whether the Windows 8.1 updates will make a big difference in adoption remain to be seen.

"[Potential adopters are] going to be cautious," said Ric Getter, a programmer analyst at Portland Community College in Portland, Ore. The college is testing Windows 8.1 to see how the operating system works in the environment.

Microsoft's concession to bring back more classic features acknowledges the need to listen to its enterprise customers, especially as the business segment has been slow to adopt Windows 8 desktops and mobile devices. Not only is Microsoft going after the enterprise with the new updates that make Windows 8 more familiar, but it's also targeting consumers, said Bob Egan, chief analyst and founder of Sepharim Group, an IT consulting firm in Falmouth, Mass.

"Microsoft is finally checking the pulse of consumers and finding prescriptive paths," he said.

In addition, Microsoft said it would expand its hardware design requirements, opening the chute for OEMs to deliver low-cost Windows 8 devices that offer a base of 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of flash storage. Current hardware designs call for devices that include 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage.

Expect more Windows phones

Nine new Windows Phone partners also came on board this week, including Lenovo, LG and Foxconn. Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 and 400 series chipsets have also been designed for Windows Phone.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia is expected to close in March. This week, Nokia unveiled the Nokia X, an Android-based smartphone that will run Microsoft services including Skype, OneDrive and Outlook.com.

Questions concerning how Nokia's Android phone will affect Windows Phone caused Microsoft to address the situation in a blog post written by Frank Shaw, corporate vice president of communications at Microsoft. Shaw pointed out that the Nokia acquisition has yet to close and that both companies still run independently of each other.

In addition, Shaw highlighted how Microsoft services ran on the Nokia X and said that Microsoft's primary smartphone strategy still focuses on Windows Phone.

With the Nokia X and support for mobile devices outside the Windows realm, Microsoft continues its quest for being more open in a competitive environment. Microsoft receives a significant revenue stream from Android royalty fees, with estimates as high as $2 billion, according to some financial analysts.

Microsoft recently signed Android patent-licensing deals with Hop-On Inc. and Voxx Electronics, showing the continued revenue stream is expected to continue this trend in the future.

Microsoft earns more revenue from its Android licensing patents compared with Windows Phone, Gold said.

Microsoft declined to comment for this article.

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Will you adopt Windows 8.1 for your business even if you don't use touchscreen devices?
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We are currently testing, and are finding that the current version has too steep of a learning curve for us to rush into deploying it at this time. Future changes could help with this issue, but for now we are still waiting to see what changes are coming.
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We received so much negative feedback from users during testing, we are staying with Windows 7. We are skipping Windows 8.x and going to wait, until Windows 9 or whatever Microsoft decides to call it, is released.
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No, will wait for next version of Windows
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Definitely!
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Absolutely, it's a big step forward for the enterprise seamlessly integrating desktop, laptop, tablet, and phone environments. All the complaints I hear are that it doesn't achieve all of this while still being 100% compatible with a decade old XP. Users cannot expect to have both. If they want enhanced security and interoperability they will have to move forward. Organizations stuck on XP missing the boat.
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Yes, many businesses still find user interface issues with Windows 8.x and it's not easy to learn. I'm curious, though, if perhaps there was a specific vertical or custom application that took advantage of live tiles if your organization would think differently? 
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No chance. Windows 7 works perfectly well, why change?
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No, No, No ,No........I
Using Win 8 is a nightmare on a non-touch pc and the upgrade to 8.1 does not install properly despite upgrading drivers etc etc!
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no
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Only IF/WHEN the use can go between a Win7 style interface and the new one. If you want a more friendly touch screen look to apple or android. Smaller and easier. We have to support old and new, mostly old as industry will stay with 7. With MS it best to skip the first gen until they take a few years and give people\industry what IS needed. Their take it or leave it attitude has and does stink. Leave it! For now...
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no... sadly it is just too big of a UI change. My organization has a thousand plus desktops with users that are not very open to change. We will stick with Windows 7 until Windows 9 or 10.
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Too little too late. Dell and HP are selling computers with Windows 7 again...they cannot continue to lose money.
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Microsoft, a "closed unique environment"? Compared to what "Apple"! Microsoft has done a superb job with WIndows 8. It's not that they are "forcing users to move to a system that doesn't work well for them" it's that they are forcing users to move to a system that isn't what they used to use. Granted that can be difficult but change is. The fact that almost 30% of Microsoft OS remain stuck on XP says more about the client base than Microsoft's post-Vista efforts. XP did everything it needed to do for a large number of PC users; so much so that they'd just as soon stick with it. And for the just-a-PC user it's hard to argue that point of view. However, the just-a-PC organization is in trouble because it's not a just-a-PC world any more. Whether it's from a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone competitive enterprises should want their people to use their multiple windows to view the same information: the device is now just a "window" to a single repository of personal or enterprise resources.
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