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Windows 8.1 isn't just an OS, it's a lesson in course correction

Mark Hachman | July 3, 2013
Microsoft demonstrated a renewed willingness to listen to its customers, delivering a ton of new features. That's worth cheering for.

Microsoft needed to remind developers that millions of PCs run Windows and Windows 8. It did so. Attracting two big social platforms—Facebook and Twitter—to Windows 8 is significant.

JARED NEWMAN. Microsoft didn't just rework apps for Windows 8.1; it added them

Hardware flexibility
People may look at a Windows 8 desktop and ask, "What do I need that for?" People may look at a convertible Windows 8 tablet and ask, "What do I need that for?" And people may look at an 8-inch Windows tablet and, well, you get the idea.

Apple's iOS has the iPhone and the iPad. Google's Android has seemingly zillions of possible hardware combinations. You can't argue that Android's success has been predicated on its diversity of platforms--the fact that it's free, that Google has a permissive app policy, and that Android is closely tied to Google's services hegemony is a better foundation for Android's success.

But Microsoft's partners offer Windows on everything from large, tabletop all-in-ones to the new Acer 8-inch Windows tablet. Some people may see this as flailing—throwing a bunch of different form factors at the wall, and hoping one of them will work. But there's no denying that Windows 8 is flexible, and Microsoft has created a platform that allows partners to imagine Windows 8 for themselves. The bottom line is that some consumers may find that ginormous all-in-one to be exactly what they need, and only Microsoft has created an ecosystem that supports this degree of experimentation.

On the other hand...
That's not to say that Microsoft's Build message couldn't have been better. Microsoft whiffed on numerous aspects of Windows 8.1; Brad Chacos has listed a dozen right here.

But for me, it boils down to two:

Windows Phone? Hello?  Steve Ballmer noted that Build would be dedicated to Windows 8, and that Microsoft wouldn't be showcasing the Windows Phone or Xbox platforms there.

But I think that for Ballmer and other executives to capitalize on the premise of a unified Windows ecosystem, they should have designated more time to Windows Phone, perhaps in a "mini-Build" of sorts. I found it really interesting that Microsoft plans to support the Unity platform, extending its "common core" concept across the Xbox, Windows, and Windows Phone platforms. Delving into this concept would have reinforced the message that Microsoft is committed to a multidevice universe, with all components aligned to a single sign-on and cloud service. This is the kind of story that gets developers (if not consumers) more interested.

A tighter unification between the Start screen and desktop: Maintaining the two different contexts makes sense when I switch between my desktop workspace, with a keyboard, and on-the-go computing in tablet mode. (I'd like the option of a cellular connection here, too.)


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