Microsoft Partners Say Windows 8.1 Improvements Could Lure More Users

Microsoft released Windows 8.1 Thursday morning, and as it trickles out into the wild, Microsoft partners who've kicked the tires on it are encouraged by what they're seeing.

With Windows 8.1, Microsoft has heeded the calls of frustrated users by returning the familiar Start button to the desktop taskbar. The 8.1 update -- which Microsoft is keen on positioning as a "new" version of Windows -- also comes with advanced search, device management and boot-to-desktop features, among other improvements.

With Windows 8, many users were put off by the major user interface changes Microsoft introduced that seemed to mash together elements designed for tablets and PCs. Todd Swank, senior director of product marketing for Equus, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based system builder, thinks Windows 8 is a solid OS that got a bad rap.

[Related: Microsoft Resellers Say Surface Still 'Not Ready For Prime Time' ]

Sponsored post

The Start button and expanded feature set should give people plenty of incentive to buy Windows 8.1 PCs, Swank said.

Jon Bach, president of Puget Systems, a Kent, Wash.-based Microsoft system builder partner, told CRN he sees Windows 8.1 as "a step in the right direction."

"It's encouraging that Microsoft is listening to the feedback and trying to respond," Bach said in an email, adding that he expects to see "much higher demand" for Windows 8.1 than he's been seeing for Windows 8.

Puget Systems started selling Windows 8 PCs the day they hit the market last October, but like many other PC sellers, it hasn't seen much of a spike in sales in the meantime. One reason for this is that Windows 8 was released at a time when many customers were happy with Windows 7 and saw no reason to upgrade.

The situation was different when Windows 7 launched in October 2009 because many customers were eager to upgrade from Windows XP after having skipped Windows Vista.

"We haven't witnessed the same level of excitement or demand for Windows 8," Brett Nordquist, "customer happiness engineer" at Puget Systems, said in a blog post last December.

With the Windows XP support deadline looming next April, Microsoft and its partners are pushing hard for XP users to upgrade.

One Microsoft partner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Microsoft is pushing hard for XP users to upgrade to Windows 8 instead of Windows 7.

That's a strange approach, the source told CRN, because the majority of businesses are upgrading from XP to Windows 7, and they're showing little interest in Windows 8.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's promotional efforts are almost wholly focused on Windows 8, the source said.

"We can still promote Windows 7 on our own, but Microsoft isn't giving up any money or incentives to do it," the source said.