Microsoft touching up Windows 8 to address gripes

Still, company says it’s pleased with new system

In October, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer launched Windows 8 — a major overhaul that has drawn much criticism.
Richard Drew/Associated Press/File 2012
In October, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer launched Windows 8 — a major overhaul that has drawn much criticism.

SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft is retooling the latest version of its Windows operating system to address complaints and confusion that have been blamed for deepening a slump in personal computer sales.

The tuneup, announced Tuesday, won’t be released until later this year. The changes, part of a software package given the code name Blue, tacitly acknowledge the shortcomings in Windows 8, which radically overhauled Microsoft Corp.’s ubiquitous operating system in October.

Microsoft hoped to play a more prominent role in the growing mobile device market while maintaining its dominance in PCs. But Windows 8’s design, which emphasizes interactive tiles and touch controls, seems to have befuddled as many people as it has impressed. A leading research firm, International Data Corp., says Windows 8 contributed to a 14 percent decline in PC sales during the first three months of the year — the biggest year-over-year drop ever.


Meanwhile, sales of smartphones and tablet computers are booming. The biggest beneficiaries have been Apple Inc., maker of the iPhone and iPad, and Samsung Electronics Co., which sells the most devices running on Google’s Android software. Google Inc. is also benefiting from Android’s popularity through increased traffic to its services, creating more opportunities to display ads.

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In contrast, PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc., which primarily sell Windows-powered machines, have been in a funk that has battered their stocks and raised questions about their futures.

Still, Microsoft insists it’s pleased with Windows 8.

The company says more than 100 million Windows 8 licenses­ have been sold so far, up from about 60 million in January. The licensing volume ‘‘is in the same general ballpark,’’ as Microsoft’s previous operating system — Windows 7 — at a similar juncture of its sales cycle, said Tami Reller, marketing and financial chief for the Windows business.

Reller said Microsoft realizes changes need to be made to make Windows 8 easier to navigate and capable of taking full advantage of technology improvements that have come out since October.


‘‘Are there things that we can do to improve the experience? Absolutely,’’ Reller said. ‘‘There is a [Windows 8] learning curve, and we can work to address that.’’

For now, Microsoft isn’t saying what kind of changes will be introduced with Blue, which the company plans to anoint with a different name when the update is available. Nor is Microsoft saying whether it will charge owners of Windows 8 devices to get the fixes. The company plans to release Blue in time for the holiday season.

Reller said details will be released before Microsoft holds a conference in San Francisco in late June. Some of Blue’s features are expected to be previewed at that conference.

‘‘I view this as a relaunch of Windows 8, finally giving everyone a fully baked version,’’ said technology analyst Patrick Moorhead. ‘‘It has been a very rough road for Microsoft so far.’’

Blue also will make Windows 8 better suited for smaller, less expensive tablets with 7- and 8-inch display screens, Reller said.