As someone who admires the innovations that Microsoft made with Windows 8 while at the same time recognizing the platform’s glaring flaws, I’ve found it encouraging that the company has decided to own up to some of its mistakes and dial back some of the big changes it made to its operating system with the release of Windows 8.1. The new update, which Microsoft announced Tuesday would be available as a public preview starting on June 26th, will reportedly bring back the Start button as an option and give users the choice of booting up their computers in desktop mode. But the feature that really has me excited about Windows 8.1 and that makes me think Microsoft is serious about listening to its customers is that it’s providing the update free of charge for all Windows 8 users.
Why am I particularly enthused by this? Because giving things away for free a la Google isn’t Microsoft’s normal modus operandi, which is why you have to pay a fee for the right to use Office on your PC, why OEMs have to pay fees for the right to build Windows-based PCs, why gamers have to pay for Xbox Live Gold memberships and so forth. And while it’s true that the company does give away service packs to its existing Windows customers, it seems that Windows 8.1 is much more of a real upgrade to the existing platform and not a simple system of tweaks. In other words, it’s something you might expect the company to charge customers money for.
What Microsoft’s decision to make Windows 8.1 a free upgrade shows me is that the company sees it as a way to reconnect with those users who have been put off by the changes made in Windows 8 rather than as a quick cash grab for people who want the Start button back. And while it’s far too early to tell whether the company will be successful in bringing more people into the Windows 8 fold with the new update, it’s a very good sign that the company recognizes that it’s upset some of its users and is offering to help them free of charge.