The Windows 'Blue' burden: Saving the PC itself

Microsoft hails Windows 8 license sales while OEMs blame the OS for industry ills. Can Windows 'Blue' get them on the same page?

Microsoft execs were out in force this week, talking up Windows 8 and teasing the upcoming, aptly code-named "Blue" update. Pity poor "Blue": It must soothe not only users disgruntled by Windows 8, but also PC makers who seem ready to throw Microsoft under the bus in their rush to blame the OS for the industry's woes.

While Microsoft is still trying to make a silk purse of a pig's ear, trumpeting 100 million licenses sold for Windows 8, InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard took a closer look at the numbers and reached a much glummer conclusion: "If you buy Microsoft's numbers, Windows 8 sales are falling rapidly -- precipitously, even. If you're skeptical about Microsoft's numbers, you might want to contemplate how bad the Windows 8 activation rate really is."

Windows 8 has been called everything from "an unmitigated disaster" to "a half-baked mess," and research firm IDC has said Windows 8 helped drive a stake through PC shipments, which have been in a free fall.

OEMs have been making their displeasure known publicly as well. The head of Dell's tablet and high-end PC business complained last month about weak demand and negative market sentiment for Windows RT. Nvidia's CEO has stated, "Windows RT is disappointing to us because we expected to have sold more than we did. Everybody expected to have sold more than we did." And at a product launch in Sydney this week, a Toshiba exec chastised Microsoft for confusing the market with different flavors of the operating system, underscoring a branding problem also decried by Leonhard.

That disconnect between the picture of Windows 8 that Microsoft is pushing and what industry figures and users are saying does not bode well for "Blue." As recently as six weeks ago, when a preliminary build of "Blue" first leaked, Microsoft showed no signs of backing away from its radical overhaul of Windows. In a Wall Street Journal report this week, Patrick Moorhead, president of research firm Moor Insights & Strategy, criticized Microsoft's long-delayed admission that Windows 8 needs a reboot. "Almost everybody in the tech industry already knows the [Windows 8] experience is suboptimal," Moorhead said. "Microsoft was the last one ... in the room to realize this was the case."

But Tami Reller, a co-head of Microsoft's flagship Windows business who has been making the interview rounds, promises that "Blue" will introduce new features and address user gripes. "We feel good that we've listened and looked at all of the customer feedback. We are being principled, not stubborn" about modifying Windows 8 based on that feedback, Reller said.

What she wouldn't say was whether a Start button and a boot-straight-to-desktop option would be among the features in "Blue." Reller also didn't say whether "Blue" is the first of what will be an annual release schedule of new versions of Windows. "You shouldn't assume we won't be doing this yearly... or that we will," she said.

Transparency like that hardly seems calculated to reassure users or partners. Don't hold your breath for "Blue" as a cure for Microsoft's -- or the PC industry's -- troubles.

This story, "The Windows 'Blue' burden: Saving the PC itself," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.