Microsoft puts on a happy face for Windows 8, but retrenches behind the scenes

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In a Q&A published on its own Windows website, Microsoft put on a happy face about Windows 8 progress and future.

But in interviews, Tami Reller, chief marketing officer and chief financial officer for Microsoft Windows, said that the company isn’t exactly happy with reception to the new operating system. She touched on some changes to come but left us guessing about whether the company is prepared and able to make the kinds of changes that might boost excitement for the new Windows.

Microsoft said that 100 million Windows 8 licenses have sold, matching Windows 7 sales volume in the first six months of sales.

“I feel very good about that number, but not good enough,” Reller told Geekwire. She admitted that having a better array of devices would have spurred sales. That has been a common complaint from interested buyers – too few models to choose from and too many that sport the same hardware designed for Windows 7, rather than new designs that take advantage of the touch screen capabilities of Windows 8.

She also told Geekwire that the assortment of devices is still too low. Not until the holidays – a full year after Windows 8 launched – does she expect a significant uptick in variety of models. That points to a lack of enthusiasm among OEMs that are increasingly turning to other operating systems like Chrome and Android to spur sales.

To make Windows 8 more attractive to OEMs and end users, Microsoft has scaled the OS down to fit smaller tablets. She hinted to Mary Jo Foley that those smaller devices would go on sale soon – even before the Blue update.

Reller didn’t reveal much that we don’t already know in her interviews about Blue. But she did leave one very important question unanswered. When asked if Blue would be a free update or come with a cost, Reller declined to answer.

It would be a big mistake to charge users for this first update. Windows 8 is a major departure from traditional Windows and it’s clear that Microsoft didn’t get everything right. Charging customers to address those mistakes won’t make people happy.

Reller told a few people that Blue will address customer feedback. When Foley asked whether Blue would include a Start button, she wouldn’t say but, curiously, commented that the company is “being principled, not stubborn.” Being stubborn implies no start button. But the comment could also confirm rumors that Microsoft will include a Start button in Blue that will simply take users to the home screen rather than display the menu found on the traditional Start button.

Another way that Microsoft will apparently try to boost sales is by doing more to get customers used to the new Windows 8 design. Reller told the New York Times that the company is training sales people to make sure customers know about the desktop. That’s a departure from launch when Microsoft was positioning the desktop as an app, she told the paper. Another response to feedback from people who are having trouble giving up the old desktop design for the new UI.

The new, smaller tablets should be coming soon, with Blue to follow shortly. It's an open question whether the market has the patience to wait for Microsoft to get it right.

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