Microsoft Windows 8.1 Update to Fix Usability Issues

MicrosoftMicrosoft’s Windows 8.1 update to fix usability issues is coming, and not a moment too soon for Windows 8 sufferers, of which there are many. Amid predictions of the eventual demise of the Windows operating system, Microsoft is fighting, and slowly losing, the battle to maintain its dominance over the personal computer space. Due the first week in April, it will be grabbed up by frustrated Windows 8 users.

Complaints about Windows 8 surfaced soon after the system’s first pre-release date in September of 2011. Some users loved the new interface. Most of them purchased Windows 8 in a “bundle” with a new touch-screen computer. Windows 8 works well with touch-screen computers because it was “optimized” for use with those device. Many of the users who purchased Windows 8 for older computers that were not equipped with touch screens have not been happy with the results.

One group that really hates Windows 8 are the computer technicians who have to support the system. An informal survey of technicians at OMG Technical Support generated a long “hate list” for Windows 8, but the most important issue was user frustration with the interface.

“People who have had Windows 7 on their computers several years are really used to being able to find tools easily from drop-down menus. With Windows 8, they are stuck with a system that requires the user to scroll through screen after screen of over-sized hyperlinks that they have to click on in order to get anything done,” according to Henry, a computer service consultant at OMG.

To mollify Windows 8 users who have not fallen in love with the product’s user interface, the 8.1 update which purportedly make the new version more user-friendly for mouse-and-keyboard users.  Users will have the option of keeping the tiled interface or going back to the classic desktop user interface. The new revision reinstates the “right-click” menu option, which pops up a context sensitive of options for the user to select, and reportedly will allow users to minimize or maximize windows more easily, among other changes.

The Windows 8 issues are symptomatic of larger issues at the software giant. Microsoft’s products have reached a “usability plateau,” providing all of the bells and whistles that consumers need in order to do what they want to do with their computers. The 400 million users who have refused to give up their Windows XP systems are testimony to the fact that Microsoft reached that plateau in 2008. Further developments above the plateau level are designed to re-stimulate demand in a moribund marketplace. The increasing popularity of touch-screen devices gave Microsoft a niche to address with a new revision of their operating system to provide functionality that would take advantage of the touch screen market.

Consumers have been voting with their wallets against Windows 8. Microsoft has sold 200 million copies of its newest operating system in the 15 months since it was released in October of 2012. In contrast, the company sold more than 240 million copies of Windows 7 during the first 15 months that it was on the market. Windows 8 has a long way to go before it replaces the 630 million copies of Windows in circulation.

In order to stimulate demand for newer products, Microsoft periodically stops supporting the older ones, by shutting down technical support from Microsoft for those products. Drivers for new hardware devices are not made available for the older operating systems. It is a carrot and stick approach to marketing. The carrot on the shiny new tricks that the new systems can do. The stick is the inability to get support, drivers, or bug fixes  and, if the discontinued product crashes, good luck getting it replaced.

Microsoft XP is a case in point. Microsoft has announced, again, that April 8, 2014 will be the drop dead date for the Windows XP operating system. After that date, Microsoft will no longer support XP with bug fixes and security updates. This is not news to anyone, because Microsoft announced that it was going end support for XP in 2014 back in 2007 but the end of the XP era is an unwelcome development for many computer users

According to some estimates, nearly 20% of the world’s personal computers are running XP. That number includes a large number of corporate users who cling to XP because the applications they need to use in their businesses do not run well, if at all, on later versions of the Microsoft Windows. Despite Microsoft’s full court press to get users to abandon XP, many computer experts consider XP to be the most bullet proof of all Microsoft products. Losing Microsoft XP will be a hard pill for many corporate users to swallow, made even less palatable by the remaining choices.

With that drop dead date approaching quickly, computer users are faced with a dilemma: whether to purchase Windows 7 while it is still available, or upgrade to Windows 8, which is what Microsoft wants them to do. One  problem with moving up to Windows 8 is that putting Windows 8 on an older computer is like putting racing slicks on your mother’s Dodge Caravan. It improves the looks, but it does not improve performance.

The other problem is that Windows 7 might not be available, forcing customers to purchase Windows 8. In December, Microsoft announced that it had already stopped shipping copies of Windows 7 to retail outlets in October of 2013, and that shipments of computers with pre-loaded Windows 7 software would end in October of 2014. The business community was not pleased, and the negative reaction forced Microsoft to recant on that discontinuation date. It is not known how long Windows 7 will now remain available for new retail sales, which is a stunning admission of the company’s own lack of faith in its latest flagship product.

Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 update is not really necessary to fix usability issues because Windows 8 users can make their systems look and feel like Windows 7 systems. It takes  five minutes to do, and just about anyone who can turn on a computer can do it but Microsoft makes a point of not telling consumers about it….until asked.

By Alan M. Milner

San Francisco Chronicle
The Verge
Laptop Magazine

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