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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.

That would be disingenuous at best: Microsoft heard complaints from users about make-them-eat-Metro long before it launched Windows 8. Its vaunted telemetry — gathered from millions of opt-in PCs — may have either failed it or been ignored.

Julie Larson-Green, who now heads the unit responsible for Microsoft's hardware development but at the time a co-leader for Windows, hinted at the latter when she got defensive in an interview in May 2013 as she said, "We're principled in the direction we're heading, but we're not stubborn. We're not going to spite you (emphasis in original)."

"Pragmatically, this is good news," said Moorhead of a boot-to-desktop by default. "I think this is the only way for Microsoft to weather the next few years, because people have a hard time using Metro. I appreciate that they've recognized that they didn't have an app ecosystem in place when they needed it, and so they're picking this middle ground."

Moorhead traced the failure of Metro, and thus the need for Microsoft to backpedal from that UI's intended predominance, to the company's marketing of Windows 8 as a touch-first operating system. "But there weren't enough touch devices at the launch," Moorhead said, repeating a mantra voiced by others, including DisplaySearch, which last year pegged touch-enabled notebooks as accounting for 11% of all 2013 laptop shipments, with that share climbing to near 20% this year and to about 40% by 2017.

Microsoft executives have blamed the shortage of touch notebooks for Windows 8's slow start, too. If touch PCs had been more prevalent, they have argued, Windows 8 would have gotten out of the gate faster. And once touch was more widely available, the new operating system would power a rebound in PC sales.

While shipment declines slowed in the second half of 2013, they are still projected to be in negative numbers this year compared to the last: Windows 8 and touch have not yet rescued the industry from its doldrums.

Moorhead and others expected that Microsoft will adjust the boot to desktop by default setting to account for the hardware, leaving it enabled on clamshell notebooks, for example, but turning it off on tablets. How it will handle hybrids, such as its Surface devices, which it touts as tablets that double as notebooks, as well as the surfeit of 2-in-1 designs now coming out of OEM factories, is unclear.

Windows 8's future direction will be only one of the many items on Microsoft's next CEO's to-do list, but undoubtedly will be near the top.

At least the new executive — which seems almost certain to be cloud chief Satya Nadella — will have the gift of hindsight, and so will be less likely to repeat what now-outbound CEO Ballmer said in 2011, within hours of the launch of Windows 8's developer preview.


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