Microsoft repairs fiasco that is Windows 8
MICROSOFT has rushed to reassure Irish clients that planned changes to its Windows 8 operating system will not hit businesses that have already upgraded their computers to the operating system.
The computing giant is planning to make a series of changes to its flagship software in a tacit admission that the radical changes it made to its latest version of Windows have been a failure.
The new project, codenamed Windows Blue, is expected to see a raft of changes made to the system, raising fears that businesses who have forked out thousands of euro to upgrade their systems to Windows 8 will have to pay more for the update.
Microsoft, however, has made it clear that the changes, expected later this year, will come in the form of a software update and so will be free to people and companies already using Windows 8.
In what is being described as the biggest corporate fiasco since New Coke some 30 years ago, Microsoft are expected to drop or at least make optional a number of the key changes it made between Windows 8 and the traditional Windows system.
Among the alterations mooted are the restoration of the "Start" button which had been a staple of Windows since 1995. The removal of Start had been downplayed when Windows 8 launched but it has caused havoc among power users and business people – Microsoft's key market – with many companies retaining the 12-year-old Windows XP system. Microsoft will stop supporting XP next April.
The company is also expected to make the traditional "desktop" view the default view when a computer is turned on for the first time. In a departure from previous versions, 8's default view is a tiled set-up more suited to tablets and touch screens than systems using a mouse and keyboard.
Microsoft releases software updates regularly, usually to deal with security issues and the like. For example XP's current version is known as "XP Service Pack 3". Those updates rarely make radical changes to the system's appearance or key features, however.
Microsoft has not confirmed what changes will be made in the "Blue" update, but they are believed to be based on feedback from users on what has and hasn't worked in Windows 8 so far.
The Seattle-based company badly needs 8 to be a success. Company chief executive Steve Ballmer, who has been roundly criticised for the lack of innovation at the firm under his control, has proudly described 8 as a "bet the company" product, while PC sales have fallen sharply in the teeth of rocketing tablet PC sales.
The 100 million Windows 8 licences sold since the software's debut in October are in the "general ballpark" with the previous version during a similar period chief financial officer Tami Reller of the Windows division, said last week.
Still, Windows 8 has failed to reignite the ailing personal computer market, where shipments plummeted by their largest margin on record in the latest quarter, according to market-research firm IDC.
While Microsoft said it's planning to update Windows 8 to address customer feedback, analysts are divided as to whether the update can turn around the PC industry.
"The changes will help some but there are some serious challenges that the PC industry is facing that I'm not sure can be easily fixed," said Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC.
The problems facing Microsoft are reminiscent of the "New Coke" debacle nearly three decades ago. That incident is now used by management courses worldwide to highlight the danger of changing something that already works.
In 1985 Coke was under siege from rival Pepsi which had billed itself as the "choice of a new generation".
In an effort to revitalise Coke, the company dropped its original formula and came up with a new version and marketed it heavily. The change was an unmitigated disaster and Coke reverted to its old recipe within three months.
Unlike Coke, however, Windows 8 users will have spent hundreds if not thousands of euro for a product they clearly don't like.
This isn't a disposable drink that can be bought for a euro or so, this is a serious piece of electronic hardware that is often the centre of people's business and personal lives.
Microsoft shares are up 16pc since Windows 8 went live, but given the hype that surrounded its release, investors want more.
It is now up to Mr Ballmer and his team to rescue the 8 system before it costs them their jobs.