Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gestures as he delivers his keynote address at the Microsoft "Build" conference. Photo: Reuters
Microsoft is trying to reverse slumping PC sales and quiet growing criticism of its flagship operating system with the release of a revised version of Windows 8.
On Wednesday, Microsoft made a preview version of Windows 8.1 available for download. It includes alterations meant to address consumer dissatisfaction with the operating system. Analysts believe users' frustration with Windows 8 is partly to blame for the biggest drop in personal computer sales in nearly two decades.
At a conference in San Francisco, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer acknowledged that the company pushed hard to get people to adopt a radical new tile-based "Modern" user interface in Windows 8. Microsoft is now back-pedaling, making it easier to reach and use the older "Desktop" interface.
An attendee uses the touch screen on Microsoft's Surface computer tablet. Photo: Bloomberg
"Let's make it easier to start applications the way we're used to," Ballmer told the audience of software developers. "What we will show you today is a refined blend of our Desktop experience and our Modern experience."
Windows 8, released October 26, was Microsoft's answer to changing customer behaviour and the rise of tablet computers. The operating system emphasises touch controls over the mouse and the keyboard, which had been the main way people have interacted with their personal computers since the 1980s.
Microsoft and PC makers had been looking to Windows 8 to revive sales of personal computers, but some people have been put off by the radical makeover. Research firm IDC said the operating system actually slowed down the market. Although Microsoft says it has sold more than 100 million Windows 8 licenses so far, IDC said worldwide shipments of personal computers fell 14 per cent in the first three months of this year, the worst since tracking began in 1994.
Windows 8 was also supposed to make Microsoft more competitive in the growing market for tablet computers. But Windows tablets had less than a 4 per cent market share in the first quarter, compared with 57 percent for Android and 40 per cent for Apple's iPad.
Among the changes present in Windows 8.1, users will be able to boot up in Desktop mode. There, they'll find a button that resembles the old Start button. It won't take users to the old Start menu, but to the new Modern Windows 8 start screen. Still, the re-introduction of the familiar button may make it easier for longtime Windows users to get accustomed to the changes. A common complaint about Windows 8 is that it hides features and functions, and replaces buttons with gestures and invisible click zones that have to be memorised. Now, a single swipe up from the Modern start screen brings up all programs, even those that are seldom used.
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