Whoops! Windows 8 do-over on the way

Windows 8 Start Screen

A Microsoft executive signaled that the company is rethinking parts of Windows 8 in response to the difficulties customers have had adapting to the operating system, launched last fall.

Microsoft VP Tami Reller told the Financial Times that “key aspects of the software will be changed when Microsoft updates the OS this year.  She referred to “difficulties” many users have had with the software. “The learning curve is definitely real,” she told the FT.

The story set off a flurry of comments and speculation as to what the changes will be and comparisons to Coca-Cola’s “New Coke-Classic Coke” fiasco.

As GigaOM’s Tom Krazit wrote in February, Windows 8 was one of the company’s most important launches in years — it represented a huge attempt by the company to make its OS relevant on tablets where Apple’s iPad was eating Microsoft’s lunch.  That move was represented by its “radically overhauled Metro user interface”  borrowed from the latest Windows Phone. It’s a touch friendly look and feel that was, and still is, alien to many Windows desktop users.

A huge re-do now will no doubt turn up the heat on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who has been the subject of considerable negative press over the past few years. But it’s really unclear just what changes will be made. Many folks will immediately assume that Microsoft will nuke the Metro interface in favor of classic windows to get the installed base over the hump. Far more likely is it will offer a choice of interfaces.

facebook-windows-phoneHere’s the thing: When it comes to radical change that consumers may demand, Microsoft is damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t. The cool Metro interface won good reviews on the smart phone but was seen as way too much of a change for Windows-savvy workers who’ve been on the platform for ten or 20 years.

For that huge installed base, change is not a good thing. It’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft navigates this tricky course. For it’s part, Microsoft suggests that Windows 8 sales aren’t hurting. On Tuesday, Reller noted on the Windows blog that 100 million licenses have been sold, which is on par with the copmany’s prior Windows 7 launch.

Update: A Microsoft spokeswoman contacted for comment responded via email:  “It is unfortunate that the Financial Times did not accurately represent the content or the context of our conversation about the good response to date on Windows 8 and the positive opportunities ahead on both Windows 8 and Windows Blue.” And she referred to the aforementioned blog.

This story was updated at 11:32 a.m. PDT with Microsoft comment.

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