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Windows Blue won't solve all Microsoft's problems, analysts say

Gregg Keizer | April 26, 2013
Drumbeat of leaks leads to high expectations for upgrade, but pricing, form factor and apps need attention, too

Microsoft's failure thus far to significantly spark PC and tablet sales with Windows 8 has put high expectations on an expected 2013 refresh of the OS, dubbed "Blue."

But changes to the operating system's feature set, tweaks to its user interface (UI) and modifications to some of its subcomponents are actually solutions to minor problems, analysts said. They point to more important issues like pricing and positioning, app shortages and enterprise reluctance as beyond the scope of an upgrade.

Microsoft has said little of Blue, the code name for the first Windows 8 upgrade, reportedly to ship this summer or fall, as well as the moniker for the company's faster-paced development and release schedule. It's only acknowledged the code name and touted what it's called a new "continuous" update strategy for Windows on desktops, tablets, servers and smartphones.

For example, last week Microsoft's CFO Peter Klein used the "Windows Blue" label, and added, "With Windows 8, we are setting a new, accelerated pace for updates and innovations."

Several long-time Windows watchers, including Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet, Paul Thurrott of Supersite for Windows and Tom Warren of The Verge, have been tracking leaked builds of Windows Blue -- which may be named Windows 8.1 -- and describing its changes in detail.

The constant barrage of news, minor in each instance but cumulative over time, has many setting high expectations for Blue. "There are high expectations for Blue," agreed J.P. Gownder, an analyst with Forrester Research. "It's positioned as a much bigger release than a service pack, because it will augment the core products."

Microsoft's service packs, the historical form of its interim updates between new Windows editions, have included few feature changes, instead limiting themselves to collecting bug and security fixes released previously.

Windows 8 is not in danger of dying, analysts stressed, but many of them called the focus on UI changes and small-to-medium enhancements and additions misplaced. Microsoft has bigger fish to fry.

"I look at Windows 8, no matter how many iterations it goes through, as a transitional product," said Michael Silver of Gartner. "Windows 8 is very transitional. It has lots of rough edges where the desktop and touch interfaces didn't integrate. But the hardware is transitional, too. Really, 2013 is sort of a lost year for Microsoft and Windows."

Future processors from Intel, including the Clover Trail and Bay Trail upgrades to its Atom architecture, will be necessary, said Silver, to put enough power and long-enough battery life into Windows tablets.

Others cited different problems Microsoft faces.

"First of all, price is a major issue," said Peter King, an analyst who focuses on tablets for U.K.-based Strategic Analytics, in a Thursday interview. "Clearly the market wants cheaper tablets. Everyone's ASPs [average selling prices] are declining, Android's most of all. Windows tablets' [ASPs] are too high."


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