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Microsoft's Windows 8 Sings the Blues
By: Maryann Fabian
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Last week, during American Idol no less, JC Penney was the one who was singing a new tune. (Even though it sounded an awful lot like an old tune by the Temptations: “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”) This week, it’s Microsoft’s turn to sing. And they’re singing the blues. After many rumors, it was finally revealed that “key aspects” of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system will be changed before an update, Windows Blue, is released later this year. Now, if only people would run out to buy a touchscreen PC…

Blue is about much more than fixing a few bugs. “[It’s] an opportunity for us to respond to customer feedback,” said Tami Reller, head of Windows’ marketing and financing. A “rethink,” the Financial Times called it. A “U-turn,” said CBS News. “Will tweaking Windows 8 be enough to revive the PC?” opined NPR. “Windows 8 blamed as PC market tumbles 14%,” read another headline. “It seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market,” an analyst told the New York Times. The customer is simply not understanding how to use the new interface. He sorely misses the familiar “start” button on the bottom left of the screen. Oh, and have I mentioned that you need to have a touchscreen PC?

Microsoft chose design over usability. Windows 8 was a bold attempt at Apple-like creativity; reinvent the PC, make it cool, give it a mobile facelift with the same interface of tablets and smartphones. (Oh, if we could all be like Apple! JC Penney wanted that, too.) Consider the source, but Tim Cook of Apple said that Windows 8 was like combining a toaster and a fridge. Ouch. And, although 100 million licenses were sold, the product does not seem all that popular with consumers.

What is it with reformulations this year? It took Maker's Mark less than a week to decide not to change its formula for whiskey. It took JC Penney a fourth-quarter earnings meltdown to pull the plug on its reinvention (and CEO). It’s taken at least six months — and, according to some analysts, the downfall of the PC market — for Microsoft to admit it’s time to try again.

On American Idol, Randy Jackson likes to point out the contestant who’s “in it to win it.” It’s usually someone who has taken a big risk. But what effect will these big corporate oopsies have on the rest of the marketplace? Are companies going to become too scared to take big risks? Will creativity and new ideas be snuffed out? Or is it the consumer that’s become reluctant to change?

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About the Author
Maryann Fabian is a copywriter who has crafted the voice of some of this country's best brands.
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