What's new about Windows Blue (FAQ)

The top marketing and financial executive in Microsoft's Windows group dishes, just a little, on the next Windows update. CNET offers up a guide on what to expect when Blue finally arrives.

Microsoft's Surface RT tablet. Josh Miller/CNET

Microsoft may be the only company on the face of the planet where the sale of 100 million licenses is seen by some as a disappointment.

Tami Reller, the chief marketing officer and chief financial officer of the Windows division, noted Monday that Microsoft has sold more than 100 million licenses of Windows 8 since its October debut. But slowing PC sales have sparked some hand-wringing, leading to speculation about the coming update for Windows 8, codenamed Blue. The significant changes in Windows haven't been universally embraced, Reller acknowledged to The New York Times.

"The learning curve is real and needs to be addressed," Reller told the Times.

Reller said Microsoft is listening to customer feedback regarding frustrations with Windows 8. With the radical overhaul of the look and feel of the operating system, users have raised plenty of concerns about Windows 8. At the top of that list is the lack of a Start Button, something Windows users have grown accustomed to over the years.

"We feel good that we've listened and looked at all of the customer feedback. We are being principled, not stubborn" about modifying Windows 8 based on that feedback, Reller told ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley .

Much is riding on Blue, and not just for Microsoft. The entire PC ecosystem relies on Windows to fuel sales.

The company has been circumspect, though, about the details it's willing to share. Below is a FAQ laying out what is known, and what is rumored, regarding the next Windows update.

What is Windows Blue?

In a post Monday night on Microsoft's Windows blog, Reller described Blue as "a codename for an update that will be available later this year." She said that more broadly, Blue is part of Microsoft's effort to move deeper into devices and services.

Reller didn't dive into the details of what will be in Blue. But Reller said Blue will "deliver the latest new innovations across an increasingly broad array of form factors of all sizes, display, battery life and performance, while creating new opportunities for our ecosystem."

What sort of opportunities does Reller mean?

Clearly, Microsoft is working to make Windows 8 work well for smaller tablets, devices in the 7-inch range, where Microsoft doesn't compete now. Buttressing that, Asus CEO Jerry Shen told The Wall Street Journal Monday that he anticipates smaller tablets, selling for less than $300 , to debut later this year.

Any guesses as to when Blue will debut, other than "later this year"?

Reller told The Wall Street Journal that Microsoft would offer two Blue news updates in coming weeks. The first will focus on "pricing, packaging and an official name," according to the Journal. The second will address the technical vision and should come before late June. That would coincide with Microsoft's June 26 to June 28 developer conference in San Francisco, called Build.

The company will want developers to know what to expect from the update to help them create applications that make use of the new features. It's possible that the first bit of Blue news could come at the the Computex trade show in Taipei from June 4 to June 8, where Microsoft is likely to take the wraps off new form factors running Blue. The company could also offer up details at TechEd, a conference in New Orleans on June 3 to June 6 for IT professionals and enterprise software developers.

Microsoft's Tami Reller Microsoft

What are the implications of Blue for Microsoft's Surface tablet line?

Reller seemed to pour some cold water on the rumor that Microsoft might add a smaller Surface tablet to its lineup in the near future. She told The Wall Street Journal not to expect any update to the Surface product roadmap in the coming weeks. There was some speculation that Microsoft might disclose details of a smaller Surface at one of the upcoming conferences.

So will Microsoft bring back the Start Button? Will it let users boot their PCs to the traditional Windows desktop?

It's hard to imagine that Microsoft wouldn't, given that those two requests, more than any others, have been flashpoints for Windows 8 critics. But Reller, in every interview, remained cryptic on whether those features would be in Blue. That said, last month, ZDNet's Foley reported that both those features are "looking more likely."

 

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