Enterprises trying out Windows 8 can now try out Windows 8.1 with a trial version that was made available online Thursday through Microsoft.
A team of Microsoft engineers posted the news during a Reddit chat session that also drew criticism of the Start button the new version of the operating system comes with and that revealed the walls of the team's conference room were plastered with images of Katy Perry.
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Windows 8.1 updates were available to individuals through the Windows store starting Thursday, but not so for the enterprise edition nor for holders of volume licenses. But the engineers promised an evaluation copy for customer with Software Assurance contracts, and that Microsoft would post an Windows 8.1 installer on its Volume Licensing Service Center for holders of volume licenses.
When asked about how the Windows engineers worked through what to do about the Start button, Jason Beaumont, a group program manager on the project, said it considered multiple designs and sought input from end users. In the end, the reality is that there are times when just listening to your customers provides a great path forward. "For 8.1, we worked to enrich the Start screen while brining back the flexibility for Windows users to easily transition between the Start screen and the desktop," Beaumont says.
On the return of the Start button: "Hi, I'm Jason, a GPM on the User Experience team. Here's my proof. As part of the UX team, you can imagine we had a lot of conversations about the Start button and we examined multiple designs, ran dozens of user studies, and all of us held pretty passionate opinions that covered a range of design beliefs. In the end, the reality is that there are times when just listening to your customers provides a great path forward. For 8.1, we worked to enrich the Start screen while brining back the flexibility for Windows users to easily transition between the Start screen and the desktop."
But Redditors didn't buy it. When users left click the button it brings them to the tiled Windows 8.1 Start screen that users complained about to begin with. Right clicking pops up a menu of some of the features that the Windows 7 start button would summon, and that's not good enough, they say.
"Not to beat a dead horse but how hard would it be to just allow legacy Start button support with something akin to the Win7 UI?" says a Redditor with the screen name SploogeMcF***.
"I know it may be embarrassing and from your perspective counter-intuitive, but if you really want to listen to your customers, give us the option. You should make it easier to separate (and KEEP separated) the Tablet and Desktop interfaces of the OS. Trying to capitalize on tablets shouldn't come at the cost of compromising the desktop experience."
Third party apps can restore create a Start button like that in Windows 7, but that's not good enough, says hroafelme: "It is kinda sad that I have to use another company[y's] solution for such a basic thing. Either remove the start button completely or give us full control."
Meanwhile, the team needed to search on something while it was working on its SmartSearch feature in the Bing search engine. "A little known fact outside of our team is that for all the design mock ups of SmartSearch we used Katy Perry as an example," says Katie Frigon, a group program manager at Microsoft. "Our conference rooms were covered with Katy Perry images for a year!"
Why no "Me" tile in Windows 8.1, a feature that was included in Windows Phone 8 and that seems a natural for Windows 8.1? "Great question. I have my wife and family contacts pinned to my Start screen but I never thought to pin myself. I like the idea. Luckily that team is just down the hall and I'm literally going to walk down there after lunch and give them your suggestion," says Microsoft's Beaumont.
Redditor JasCola says: "Please Microsoft get together with the Windows Phone team, and see what great features they have and port them over. This is only one example of many that Windows Phone does better than Windows 8."
The reply from Microsoft Group Program Manager Ian LeGrow: "You nailed it - there are a lot of great experiences across Windows and Phone - we're working together closely, more to come over time."
Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter@Tim_Greene.
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