Microsoft’s admission last week that it would need to make changes to its Windows 8 operating system to address a steeper-than-expected user learning curve has sparked two very different reactions from media and analysts. On the one side, Microsoft’s backtracking on Windows 8 is seen as a sign of humiliating defeat that could even point the way toward CEO Steve Ballmer’s exit from the company. The Telegraph takes this particular angle with a report that focusses on the “hostile reception” to Windows 8 and that quotes an analyst who says that “investors think Ballmer’s the wrong guy” to run Microsoft because “he missed tablets and he missed smartphones, and that these are the two areas of technology that really count.”
But there’s another, more charitable way of looking at Microsoft’s decision to rethink key aspects of Windows 8 that’s captured by ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, who says Microsoft does deserve credit for listening to its customer base and acting upon their suggestions.
“This armchair pundit finds it refreshing to hear Windows honchos admit that Windows 8 isn’t selling as well as they hoped and that they want to make its successor more comfortable, familiar and usable for the Windows installed base,” Foley writes. “If you’re someone like me — who is still running Windows 7 on two of my three Windows devices (with Windows RT running on my Surface RT) — maybe Blue will make you reconsider whether you might find the new Metro-centric Windows a little more palatable because of these changes.”
Foley’s perspective certainly makes sense since jarring changes to long-established conventions really only do long-term damage to brands if companies dig in their heals and refuse to change. As Coca Cola learned when it caved into consumer pressure to rethink its New Coke strategy, consumers are more than willing to forgive and forget when you give them what they ask for.
In this case, Foley’s sources claim that Microsoft isn’t just planning to bring back the optional Start button and the ability to boot up Windows in desktop mode, but also might include “adjustments to the Start Screen designed to make Blue easier to use for Desktop users” and “new built-in tutorials and in-context help coming to Blue.” In other words, it sounds as though Microsoft has taken user feedback to heart and is putting a lot of resources into making its customers more comfortable in the new system. If the company executes these changes well, it could give Microsoft a nice boost ahead of its highly anticipated next-genreration Xbox release in the fall.