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Microsoft Blue over Windows 8, Retooling Underway

Microsoft has been making changes in an upgrade called Windows Blue

Roughly six months after Windows 8 came out at the end of October, Microsoft Tuesday confirmed reports that it's been tinkering with the operating system to make it more popular.

The radical redesign is supposed to have confused the buying public and created enough of a learning curve that IDC blamed the widgetry for the historic 14% drop in PC sales last quarter.

As a result, Microsoft has been making changes in an upgrade called Windows Blue.

Trying to deflect more negative perceptions, Tami Reller, co-captain of Microsoft's Windows unit, told the press, "Frankly we...didn't get everything we dreamed of done in the first release."

She also claimed that Microsoft knew it might have to make immediate adjustments since Windows 8 was so different from the traditional Windows.

Denying IDC's brutal conclusion, Reller said that Microsoft has sold 100 million copies of Windows 8 since October, 40 million since January, mostly on new PCs. Windows 7, then called the fastest-selling Windows ever, had done about that same number at the six-month point.

Microsoft isn't ready to explain what will be different about Blue. It's just acknowledging that it's trying to fix the problem.

The next briefing, expected by the end of the month, will be about pricing, packaging and what Blue's official name is going to be (8.1, anyone?).

Provided it finishes whatever it's doing, it's anticipating a second Blue disclosure ahead of its developers' conference in late June, where some features may preview and a test version might appear. At that point Microsoft may explain its technical vision and what customer feedback has been and sketch out any new kinds of Windows 8 hardware it's got in mind.

Changes could reportedly see a Start button returned to Windows and the system begin in desktop mode that'll run older programs rather than with its touch-based tiles.

There's been open speculation about the ramifications another unpopular operating system could have on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who was counting on Windows 8 to springboard the company into the touchscreen and tablet markets and entice consumers to buy new PCs.

The vision behind Windows 8 is awkward. Trained by Apple, the market has apparently decided that a desktop operating system is not the same as a tablet operating system and is not used for the same things.

Reller admitted that the Windows 8 experience is better on touchscreen devices but Microsoft didn't have enough reasonably priced devices at the ready when Windows 8 launched. The company is now supposed to put its muscle behind seeing that more of those devices are available in time for the back-to-school season and that an assortment of Windows 8 and RT form factors, screen sizes and price points are out for Christmas shoppers.

Microsoft missed the boomlet in sub-eight-inch widgets like the iPad mini, which represented roughly half the tablet market in Q4 by IDC's count. The company is supposed to be working on its own seven-inch tablet and Blue is supposed to support the smaller tablets from OEMs.

Currently there are 2,400 devices certified for Windows 8.

Microsoft has also decided it has to improve the retail experience at places like Best Buy. Apparently a video doesn't cut it. Maybe the change in incentive plans it's anticipating making will.

Windows 8 needs more apps. There are 60,000 from Windows 8 - none of them Facebook - against Apple's 800,000 mobile apps.

The AP observed that "Microsoft's decision to tweak Windows 8 so soon after it went on sale may reinforce perceptions that the product is a flop."

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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