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Leak hints Microsoft will recant 'make-them-eat-Metro' strategy for Windows 8

Gregg Keizer | Feb. 3, 2014
'Milestone in the proof that the strategy didn't work,' says analyst of possibility that Microsoft will skip the Start screen by default in pending Windows 8.1 update.

Instead, consumers increasingly turned their backs on traditional PCs, opting instead to spend their money on smartphones and tablets, the latter substituting for or augmenting older personal computers. Most of their money went towards Android- and iOS-powered devices, ignoring Windows tablets, which continue to struggle for more than a single-digit share.

And businesses, while continuing to purchase PCs — their buys have kept the industry from even more horrific declines — ignored Windows 8 and standardized on its predecessor, Windows 7. While their reasons for shunning Windows 8 were many, most detested the Metro UI as disruptive to productivity, and clamored for a return of the desktop to its primary position in the Windows hierarchy.

Microsoft, faced with a repeat of the setback that was Vista, has been accommodating them in fitful steps, first with Windows 8.1's return of a pseudo Start button and the boot to desktop option, and with Update 1, reportedly several more, including boot to desktop by default, an on-screen power button within the Start screen, and the ability to "pin" Metro apps to the classic desktop's taskbar.

Windows 9, now seemingly set for a Q2 2015 debut, will make more such moves, including a Start menu of sorts and allowing Metro apps to run in resizable frames on the desktop.

But if Microsoft sets boot to desktop as on with Update 1, that decision will, strategically at least, be the biggest by far.

"Microsoft really dug a big hole for themselves," said David Smith, of Gartner, in an interview Friday, referring to the firm's approach with Windows 8. "They have to dig themselves out of that hole, including making some fundamental changes to Windows 8. They need to accelerate that and come up with another path [for Windows]."

Like Moorhead, Smith attributed the repudiation of Windows 8's original design — two UIs, two application models, but with Metro getting primacy — to businesses balking at the changes. Microsoft was prodded, if not forced, into the switcheroo because the bulk of its revenue and profits continue to come from the commercial side; with PC sales tipping even more toward enterprises, it had little choice but to placate those customers even if it forsook consumers.

"These moves," said Smith, talking about a default boot to desktop, among others, "are not stuff that will make Windows 8 instantly successful. At the most it will stem the decline in Windows, and bring them back to where they were before [Windows 8]."

It's unlikely Microsoft will portray the decision, assuming Wzor is correct, as a defeat, but will instead continue the messaging it's used previously to explain the retreat — that it is complying with customer feedback.


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