This week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer kicked off the 2013 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) with Windows 8.1 "Blue" front and center. He piled on his usual hyperbolic praise ("nothing short of the most remarkable replatforming of Windows, basically since 1995"), tacitly acknowledged criticism of Windows 8, and announced that the final version (RTM, or release to manufacturing) would go to PC makers in late August so that they could sell PCs with Windows 8.1 preinstalled before the holiday season -- especially for those planning to offer mini tablets, which Windows 8 does not support well.
The big question, though, is will Windows 8.1 be good news for users who are already struggling with Windows 8.
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I've been working with the Windows 8.1 Milestone Preview, and it all seems to come down to one new Navigation tab in the Taskbar and Navigation properties pane. You now have more control over what your OS does with those hot corners (turn them off if you want) and that Start screen. You can make your PC boot right to the "legacy" Desktop, you can go right to the All Apps view when going to the Start screen and make a few other tweaks. Is it exactly what people wanted? No, it's a compromise.
For those of us already using Windows 8, moving to Windows 8.1 is a no-brainer. It's going to be free and available through the Windows Store. As a Surface RT user, now I'm looking forward to the new Outlook RT app as well in Windows RT 8.1.
Ballmer said that Microsoft believes it has changed as a company from a software provider to a devices and services company. His keynote highlighted Windows Phone, Office 365, Windows Azure, and big data concerns of enterprise customers.
I'm at the WPC this week to discuss Exchange and regulatory compliance, and I can feel the positive energy here. A more usable (less abrasive -- cue chuckle) Windows 8.1 combined with improvements in cloud-based offerings like Azure and Office 365 give Microsoft partners hope that, with an improving economy, things are on an upswing all around.
This story, "Windows 8.1's 'fix': One new Navigation tab," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.