Preston Gralla

Microsoft cries 'uncle' on Windows 8 -- 8.1 update boots straight to desktop

January 31, 2014 8:34 AM EST

Microsoft has apparently finally admitted that Windows 8's dueling tablet-PC interface was a mistake, because reports say that in the upcoming 8.1 update Windows will bypass the Start screen and boot straight to the desktop. But will this create an even bigger problem for Microsoft?

The Verge reports that sources have told it that in the Windows 8.1 update being prepared by Microsoft, the Start screen will be bypassed by default. Instead, users will be sent straight to the desktop. Previously the site Wzor noted the same thing.

Some may call this backpedaling by Microsoft, and criticize the company for it, but I say it's a good thing -- Microsoft has finally agreed that reality trumps whatever vision the company had for Windows, and is giving in to users who have been demanding this ever since Windows 8 was released.

It's still not clear why Microsoft decided to design such a kludge in the first place, forcing a touch-based, tablet-oriented operating system on top of one designed for traditional computers, and forcing even users of traditional computers to default to the tablet-oriented one. It's likely that Microsoft hoped that by forcing users of traditional PCs to use a tablet-focused operating system, they would get used to the way it worked, and want to buy Windows tablets instead of those from the competition.

We know how that worked out -- a $900 million writeoff in unsold tablet inventory, and users of traditional computers shunning Windows 8.

So if the Windows 8.1 update does default to the desktop, it's a good thing. But it also points to a serious problem for Microsoft: If users bypass the Start screen, they'll never get around to running what were once called Metro apps. Microsoft tablets already suffer from an app gap compared to the iPad and Android tablets. This will only make it worse, because fewer developers will want to create apps for the part of an operating system that people shun.

For desktop PCs this isn't a problem, but for tablets it is. Apps sell tablets, and without a critical mass of apps for its tablets, Microsoft will have a hard time selling Windows 8 tablets. That's likely why Microsoft's recent marketing paints its tablets as productivity boosters with keyboards and running Office, rather than as entertainment devices.

This gets to the core of the Windows 8 dilemma -- Microsoft created the same operating system for tablets and PCs even though they're different form factors used for different purposes. Apple recognized they were different and designed different operating systems for each. Microsoft didn't. That's why both Windows 8 and Windows 8 tablets haven't succeeded.

There is a solution, and it's a simple one: Follow Apple's lead and design one OS for traditional computers and another one for tablets. But there's no sign Microsoft is willing to do that with Windows 8. If we're lucky, maybe it will happen with Windows 9 or beyond.