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Microsoft released a much-sought-after update to Windows 8, version 8.1, last fall. That platform upgrade corrected a number of issues users had with the latest edition of the venerable operating system. Now, the software giant — which just named Satya Nadella, executive vice president of the company’s Cloud and Enterprise Group, as its CEO — is busy prepping an upgrade to Windows 8.1.
Interestingly, according to recent reports, this upgrade may bypass Windows 8’s Metro interface in favor of booting directly to the traditional Windows desktopl.
Windows 8, designed to work on both keyboard/mouse and touch-based computing platforms (desktop, notebook and tablet), brought a number of major changes to Microsoft’s operating system. Perhaps the most controversial was the introduction of the tile-based Metro interface as a replacement to the Start menu, which had been a major part of the OS since Windows 95.
While Metro provided an ideal input and navigation method for touch-based tablets, with direct access to favorite applications, it has struggled to find favor with many desktop users.
That’s why with Windows 8.1 Microsoft brought back the Start button to access the Start menu and provided users with the option to boot directly to the desktop and bypass Metro. Now, rumors about Windows 8.1 Update 1 indicate that Microsoft may take this a step further by defaulting to the classic desktop mode on bootup, requiring users to enable the Metro interface themselves if they want to use it.
“The coming Windows 8.1 Update 1 is focused first and foremost on making Windows 8.1 more palatable to traditional mouse/desktop users,” writes Microsoft expert Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet. “This is a good thing, as this is the core of Microsoft's sizable installed base. And, in my opinion, it was a dubious idea from the outset to try to force users running Windows 8.x on nontouch hardware to interact with the operating system in a touch-first way.”
No doubt most desktop and many notebook users — those with mice and keyboards — would find this new state of affairs agreeable. However, as Foley notes, “if Microsoft did make skipping the Metro Start screen a default option, the company would give developers even less of a reason to write Windows Store/Metro Style apps,” and “if users don't have incentive to seek out Metro Style apps from the get-go, why bother?”
This struggle between old and new user interfaces is evidence of the difficult position Microsoft finds itself in as it attempts to transition to a PC-plus world.
Computerworld’s Preston Gralla believes Microsoft’s interface conundrum goes began when it decided to have the same OS for tablets and desktops.
“Microsoft created the same operating system for tablets and PCs even though they're different form factors used for different purposes,” he explains.
In addition to the rumored changes at bootup, Windows 8.1 Update 1 may also add search and shut down buttons to the Start screen, Metro-style apps to the desktop taskbar, and a bar at the top of Metro apps to make it easier to minimize, close and snap apps. Meanwhile, it is believed that Microsoft will release Windows 9 (code-named Threshold), its next major OS update, in April of next year, three years after the launch of Windows 8.