Lately, there’s been lots of interpretation and speculation swirling about the general topic of Windows “Blue” (aka Windows 8.1, scheduled for release to the world sometime before the end of 2013). The best take on this emerging phenomenon so far comes from ZDnet, in Mary Jo Foley’s occasionally brilliant and always interest All About Microsoft blog. Entitled “With Windows Blue, Microsoft may (finally) do the right thing,” it talks about what’s driving Microsoft’s recently discovered intentions — thanks to leaks and analyses of Windows “Blue” builds of late — to provide what MJF calls “an optional Start Button” and “boot-to-desktop capability.”
In light of MJF’s discussions and disclosures, the co-mingling of Windows 7 and 8 visual elements actually makes a perverse kind of sense.
In addition to these widely reported updates planned for Blue, MJF also calls on unidentified “tipsters” to report some additional UI tweaks potentially in the offing:
- changes to the Charms designed to make them more mouse-friendly
- changes to the Start screen specifically aimed at desktop users (presumably, only with mouse and keyboard at their disposal)
- new tutorials and context-sensitive help information to help newbies make better sense of Blue than they’ve apparently been able to make of the current Windows 8 release
Her take is that this might just be enough to move experienced users off of Windows 7 and into Windows 8, including her own production gear, given the reduction in learning curve and ease of use such changes would entail. I’ve already learned on my own 5 Windows 8 systems that by installing either Start8 or Classic Shell you can bypass most of the “UI friction” experienced users grouse about, and in so doing, have observed that Windows 8 is modestly faster, more compact, and quite stable in everyday test and production use.
My favorite part of this occurs when she quotes former Windows division president Steven Sinofsky’s “damned if we do; damned if we don’t” blog post (the actual title is “disrupt or die“) wherein he quite rightly observes that MS has no choice but to push the envelope on touch and tablet features in Windows versions from here on out. If they don’t do, somebody else will — and they’ lose market share; and if they do do it (or perhaps it’s appropriate to say “when they do it” at this point, what with Windows 8 out for 7 months-plus now), they’re going to disgruntle users who don’t want to deal with change, or who don’t like their changes or design ethos. There’s actually some of all of those things in what’s been happening with Windows 8 and its market reception and analysis since the consumer preview starting circulating in February 2012, and it doesn’t appear to have any end in sight.
The key point here is that Microsoft had to do something, and that is what they did. With the next version (“Blue”) they can make some corrections, but it’s not going to change either Microsoft’s or the technology world’s migration path from static, non-touch, deskbound devices to mobile, touch, hand-held and portable ones. Please check out the original article, and ponder its conclusion: “I believe Microsoft can stay its Metro-centric, touch-centric course with Windows Blue, while still making some changes that will make the OS more usable and comfortable for a bigger pool of users. While it would have been great if Windows 8 debuted this way last October, I say better late than never.” Amen and indeed, I say in reply. Good work, MJF!