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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

May 6, 2013 at 9:01 PM

Windows 8 sells 100 million copies, big “Blue” update coming

Reports of the PC’s demise at the hands of Windows 8 are greatly exaggerated, according to Tami Reller, Microsoft’s Windows marketing chief.

Reller is announcing that more than 100 million copies of Microsoft’s flagship software have been sold since it went on sale last October. That’s up from 60 million units sold by January, when she last provided an update.

The new milestone could help draw more software developers to the platform now that it’s reaching a critical mass of users.

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But the boldly designed software still isn’t setting sales records or boosting Microsoft’s earnings as Windows 7 did in its first six months on the market, and the new touch-centric design hasn’t gone over well with some advanced PC users.

Last month, Microsoft reported flat Windows sales, excluding special upgrade offers, and research firm reports blamed Windows 8 for slower PC sales.

Reller, Windows’ chief marketing and financial officer, said a range of new and affordable PCs going on sale later this year will help.

Some customer concerns about the software is expected to be addressed by a significant upgrade to the software that Microsoft has referred to internally as Blue. She confirmed that the upgrade will be released in time for the holidays.

Business users have called for Microsoft to restore the traditional Start button and enable them to change the default layout of Windows 8 back to a traditional PC desktop.

During an interview, Reller wouldn’t disclose what changes Blue will bring to the software. Details will be provided in a few weeks, before the Build Windows developer conference in late June. UPDATE: A public preview of Blue will be released at the conference, Windows Vice President Julie Larson-Green disclosed today.

But Reller noted that “we’re listening” to feedback and Microsoft will respond to customer concerns.

“We want to make sure we do a great job addressing customer feedback both in Blue as well as beyond,” she said.

So is a default “desktop mode” in the works?

“We’re definitely getting that question,” she said. “We certainly have considered a wide range of things as we’re thinking about the final Blue.”

The code-name gives Blue some sizzle and may help Microsoft and PC makers pitch a “new” version of Windows 8 to consumers this holiday season.

But the company has traditionally released a major update to its operating systems a year or two after they go on sale. Big companies tend to wait for these “service packs” to arrive and fix assorted glitches before they embrace the new software.

What may finally accelerate Windows 8 uptake is the industry’s making a broader variety of PCs available at retail, including more affordable touchscreen systems.

PC makers are picking up the pace and building more new Windows 8 systems, she said. The company has validated 2,400 models, up from 1,000 at the software’s launch. Reller said “hundreds more” will debut by the holidays.

Touchscreen laptops are starting to appear in the $450 range and lower-priced models are coming, Reller said. Microsoft is expecting to see a bigger variety of models available in time for back-to-school shopping, followed by a bigger array of models for the holidays.

The lineup will also include new tablets with 7-inch and 8-inch screens, such as the 8-inch Acer Windows 8 tablet that Amazon.com prematurely posted on its site last week. PC World caught a glimpse of the listing, for $380, before it was taken down.

Reller said retail preparedness for the software launch “was not sufficient” and Microsoft is putting a lot of effort into improvements.

“The level of change and the level of complexity of all of the devices that were coming out, we needed to do more,” she said.

While Microsoft’s Windows 8 ads have shown snazzy new touchscreen models, major stores are often displaying plain old laptops and desktops.

“We’re working on that — just getting the retail experience so customers can find what they want,” Reller said. “It has to be obvious to customers that there are all of these options.”

Microsoft’s multi-pronged approach to boosting Windows 8 sales also includes expanding the offerings at the Windows app store. Reller said the number of apps available has increased sixfold since the launch and Microsoft’s now going after apps needed to complete the “dream screen” of favorite apps in different regions of the world, to lure developers to its platform.

“The majority of the top iPad apps are either confirmed or on the path to building” a Windows version, she said.

Comments | Topics: intel, Microsoft, PCs

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