Analysis

Microsoft to bring back the Start button in Windows 8?

Cliff Saran

Amid lacklustre take-up of Windows 8 and a declining PC industry, Microsoft could be set to rethink its strategy for Windows 8.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Tami Reller, head of marketing and finance suggested that Microsoft would change “key aspects” of how the software is used.

Tami Reller admitted that the learning curve with the company’s new user interface was “definitely real,”which suggests Microsoft will reintroduce the much-loved Start button in Windows 8.

Speaking to Computer Weekly earlier this year, Newham Borough Council CIO, Geoff Connell, said users were not ready for the touch-based user interface (UI) of Windows 8 that replaces the Start menu in Windows 7.

There appears to be little appetite among corporates for touch-enabled enterprise apps.Geoff Connell, for instance, is not convinced touch is good for business use. 

“I think the jury is out at the moment on whether the businesses will want to go to Windows 8 desktop in the workplace, particularly with the interface," he said. 

"If users get used to it on Surface as an iPad alternative, then that could be interesting, but I’m not currently seeing the demand or any really worthwhile benefits over Windows 7.”

Lower ROI

Industry watchers generally agree that the lower acquisition cost and limited functionality of a tablet like an iPad or Android device, should make it easier to support when compared to a laptop PC. Unlike a laptop, tablets are usually not upgradable, so IT has limited scope to improve the hardware and software updates are handled over the air. When it breaks, it is often easier for a user to replace the tablet, than for an IT support engineer to attempt a repair.

However, Windows 8 Pro devices are derived from fully-fledged PCs so they are more complex than cheaper tablets, which potentially means support costs will be the same as a laptop. Windows 8 has not been shipping long enough for enterprises to assess the total cost of ownership of a Windows 8 devices compared to rival tablets and traditional laptop PCs.

Connell is not alone. Many large organisations are busy upgrading for the older Windows XP software to Windows 7.

However, Ollie Ross, head of research at IT manager's group, the Corporate IT Forum, said the touch user interface is more intuitive compared to a normal graphical user interface. "It is a particularly attractive quality for those looking to deploy business intelligence or where the user requires additional information in the field,  such as in a shop floor-type scenario."

Microsoft’s Reller argues that the Windows Store is a success. “We’ve surpassed 250 million apps downloaded in the first six months and almost 90% of our app catalogue has been downloaded every month,” she said in a blog. 

In the blog post, Reller wrote that Microsoft will release an update to Windows 8 later this year. A preview of the update is expected in the summer. 

Codenamed “Blue”, the update will provide more options for businesses and give consumers more options for work and play, according to Reller. She added that Blue would deliver the latest new innovations across an increasingly broad array of form factors of all sizes, display, battery life and performance, while creating new opportunities for our ecosystem.

Among the barriers Microsoft faces is that touch-based Windows 8 Professional devices are considerably more expensive than devices that run Windows RT, the low-powered, non-corporate version of the operating system. 

The vision of one device for desk use with a keyboard attached and undocked for on-the-go tablet computing is expensive. Intel Core i5-based hybrid Windows 8 Pro devices on Amazon start at £750.

This is reflected in research from analyst IHS. Duke Yi, senior manager for display components and materials research at IHS, noted that the incorporation of touch into notebooks does not just benefit consumers, as manufacturers also will find that adding this technology will be an effective way to keep the average selling price of their notebooks from plunging.

But prices are set to fall. Intel CEO Paul Otellini said Haswell, the next generation of 22nm core processor after Ivy Bridge and Bay Trail, will significantly lower the cost of mobile computing. 

“Looking at new form factors that they can design around our new chips, Haswell in particular and maybe Bay Trail, and Windows 8 enabling touch, the explosion in form factors and the competitiveness of that platform is going to be substantially different, at price points down into the $300-$400 range enabling touch,” Otellini said.

Microsoft has shipped 100m licences of Windows 8 in the last seven months, but this has not been enough to stem the decline in PC sales, which have suffered due to the rise in popularity of low cost tablet devices. As the quarterly PC shipment data from IDC shows, businesses and consumers are not convinced by premium hybrid devices that combine tablet and PC functionality.

As a business tool, the PC is not going away, but Microsoft has lost sight of the core value of Windows, namely backwards compatibility. Hopefully, it will listen to its enterprise customers and perhaps offer an alternative to the touch UI.


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