Ballmer said people with touchscreens love Windows 8 more than Windows 7 users enjoy that OS—and I found myself believing him.
Yes, despite my best attempts at journalistic objectivity, Ballmer's smooth pitch had me on right the cusp of being sold... but then the rest of the show happened.
Developers, developers, developers!
After Ballmer, the show collapsed. The message, or at least as the consumer message, became drowned out in a sea of in-the-weeds details showing off the most arcane aspects of the new operating system, from 3D-printing support to seriously nuts-and-bolts talk about the more under-the-hood aspects of the OS.
Momentum quickly faded away, replaced by grinding boredom.
The most extreme example: At one point, Windows co-chief showed off an alpha build of the new modern-style Office apps. Less than two minutes later, SVP Antoine Leblond discussed how to write native Windows 8 apps in XML and the 5,000 new APIs available in Windows 8.1.
Don't get me wrong. Build 2013 is a developer conference, and the highly technical crowd appeared to lap it up. But should Microsoft really have launched Windows 8.1—a crucial ploy in the company's bid to reignite the passion of consumers—at a dev conference?
Not just Microsoft
Ballmer's powerful case for Win 8.1 eroded as time went on.
Microsoft needs Windows 8.1 to catch on. It needs to sell that vision. And while Ballmer strode boldly down the right path, the rest of the Build 2013 keynote severely diluted the Windows 8.1 message—which is far more compelling than what Windows 8 has offered up to this point.
Microsoft listened to the pleas of desktop diehards while simultaneously cleaning up niggling issues in the modern interface and pushing forward its cloud-connected vision of a web of Windows devices, all in a scant eight months. That's seriously impressive! But alas, the focus on developers at Build took much of the steam away from Ballmer's short, sweet knockout punch.
Unfortunately, the message made abundantly clear at the Build 2013 keynote today had nothing to do with Windows 8.1. Instead, the key takeaway is that companies like Google and Microsoft need to stop muddling their pitches by announcing their big products while talking directly to developers.
Sell the consumers, and sell the developers—but don't sell the consumers AND the developers at the same time. KISS—Keep it simple, stupid. By killing two birds with one stone, Microsoft lost a valuable opportunity to crystallize the core Windows 8.1 experience in the eyes of users.
Updated at 4:08 p.m. PT with a video report from PCWorld.
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