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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.

Microsoft will renounce its "make-them-eat-Metro" strategy in an update for Windows 8.1 slated to ship this spring, if leaked preliminary builds reflect the final product.

According to Wzor, a Russian site that regularly gets its hands on unauthorized builds, Windows 8.1 Update 1 — a refresh of last fall's revamp of the original Windows 8 — will enable the "boot to desktop" setting, currently an option, as the default, bypassing the "Metro" Start screen and the flat user interface (UI) that relies on colorful tiles and runs mobile-style apps rather than traditional Windows applications.

The boot-to-desktop setting debuted in Windows 8.1, one of several changes Microsoft made to appease customers who struggled to navigate Metro apps and the Start screen with keyboard- and mouse-controlled hardware, which continues to dominate the PC market and makes up nearly all its installed base.

Then, boot to desktop was an option users had to manually trigger.

If the final Update 1 switches on the skirt-Start screen feature, it will mark a major repudiation of Microsoft's original game plan for Windows 8, analysts said.

"This as a milestone in the proof that the strategy didn't work," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "But for anyone following this closely, they would have expected it. It's for business, plain and simple. Business put up a brick-wall front and told Microsoft, 'If you don't fix this, we're not going to buy Windows 8.'"

The strategy Moorhead referred to was to force Metro, the label for the touch-and-tile UI, on every Windows 8 user by making them start each session at the Start screen, and if nothing else see it before they shifted to the classic desktop. Microsoft hoped that customers would recognize the benefits of its touch and app models, then take to new touch-enabled PCs or tablets. In turn, the idea went, those sales would push developers into quickly creating a massive app market — a virtuous cycle, at least in theory.

Well before Windows 8's launch, Microsoft in general, its CEO-for-now Steve Ballmer specifically, promised that the millions of existing PCs as well as every new system sold would be a candidate for the OS, creating an instant market for apps.

In October 2012, shortly before Windows 8 went on sale, Ballmer made one last-minute pitch and promise. "There will be customers coming and looking for apps. That I can assure you," Ballmer told developers. "It's going to create a heck of a lot of opportunity for folks in this room to make millions."

That was predicated on the start at the Start screen. In any case, it hasn't happened as Ballmer hoped.


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