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Microsoft misses the mark as its Build 2013 keynote muddles the Windows 8.1 message

Brad Chacos | June 27, 2013
Developers, developers, developers shouldn't be your audience when you're announcing a product that's crucial for your company's future.

All eyes in the technology world turned towards Microsoft's Build 2013 conference in San Francisco Wednesday, where the company's biggest guns gathered to convince a vast horde of developers (and journalists) that yes, Windows 8.1 is the key to finally fulfilling the company's vision for its new-look operating system.

The keynote speeches at Build 2013 were Microsoft's chance to sway people into buying what the company was selling—if its pitch was keen enough.

Was it?

No—but the problem wasn't the message as much as the medium.

Touch me, thrill me
Steve Ballmer came out swinging, and he actually made a pretty convincing case for Microsoft's overarching vision. Hearing him excitedly talk about it, the company's sudden shift to rapid releases and multiple form factors becomes far more intriguing, especially since Windows 8.1 itself fixes many of the most glaring flaws plaguing the vanilla Windows 8 operating system.

Windows 8.1 was built for a world where Windows devices aren't necessarily all PCs, Ballmer said. At one point, he snatched an Intel Core i7-powered Lenovo Helix hybrid from a stand onstage and espoused its all-day battery life.

"It's touch, it's pen, but it also has a keyboard with a built-in battery that literally makes it the most powerful PC and the most powerful, capable, lightweight tablet you can carry," he said. "Should you call that a PC? Should we call it a tablet? What I call it is all Windows, all the time."

Put it that way, and hybrids start to sound pretty gosh-darned good.

But at the same time, Ballmer stressed that Windows 8.1 was designed to more elegantly integrate the desktop experience into Microsoft's modern-style vision.

"Suffice to say, we pushed boldly in Windows 8, and yet what we found was that we got feedback from users of those millions of desktop applications that said—if I were to put it in coffee terms—'Why don't you go refine the blend here?'" Ballmer said. "...So what we will show you today is a refined blend of our desktop experience and our modern interface and application experience."

windows 8
Windows 8.1 'refines the blend' between the desktop and the modern Start screen.

And then he did. The ability to boot directly to the desktop and the return of the (repurposed) Start button truly enhance the base desktop experience on Windows 8.

Ballmer killed. Everything was going wonderfully, and I was falling under his spell. With Windows 8.1, maybe you can spend most of your time on the desktop, and if you decide to wade in the modern-style waters, you'll find superb synergies and a refined interface waiting to greet you and make your life more seamless, more connected. Sounds nifty!


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