With Windows 8.1, Microsoft seeks redemption of bold, flawed OS redesign

The OS update starts shipping on Thursday and addresses several criticisms made at Windows 8

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Another element for enterprises to consider is that the Windows 8.x OS family seems to be on a much more frequent release cycle, which represents a new challenge for IT departments, according to Silver. "Microsoft will end support for a point release, like Windows 8.1, two years after the next point release ships. If they ship a point release every year, keeping up will be hard," he said.

Still, there is a consensus that Windows 8.1 will be helped by the arrival of better hardware, including newer, faster, more battery friendly chips from Intel. "Windows 8.1's potential isn't about what Microsoft has changed or added in," Forrester's Johnson said via email, who views the new and changed features primarily as tweaks. "It's about the new hardware from the OEMs."

Silver also sees "the whole industry converging with better products." The processors and hardware in general that were available for Windows 8 were "suboptimal" and contributed to making 2013 a "lost year" for the OS, Silver said.

Microsoft is also playing the role of hardware maker with its Surface tablets, which are now in their second generation and are expected to benefit from Windows 8.1's improvements.

Windows RT -- the version for ARM-based devices -- fared worse than the regular version of Windows 8 for x86 chips, and it's also getting updated to an 8.1 version. Broadly rejected by buyers and PC makers, the future of Windows RT is very much in question, and Silver isn't optimistic about its prospects.

"Microsoft hasn't made the case yet that it can explain RT versus Atom-based systems to buyers," Silver said. "Unless marketing improves, it won't be successful."

On Thursday, Microsoft will launch an eight-day contest for people who tweet an image of their updated Windows 8.1 Start screen and use the hashtag #MyStart. Microsoft will pick 810 random winners every day who will receive a $10 gift card for the Windows Store.

Microsoft will also host a question-and-answer chat on Reddit in which several of its engineers will participate. It will run from 1:30 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time until 3 p.m. That will be followed by a Twitter chat from 3-4 p.m. identified by the hashtag #winchat.

A Windows Store redesign will be unveiled on Thursday and will feature personalized recommendations, automatic updating of installed apps and a new section called "New & Rising" that will display prominently apps that are new and popular.

Redesign of Windows Store
Along with the release of Windows 8.1, Microsoft is unveiling a redesign of the Windows Store.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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