Tom Warren, The Verge:

This approach of recognizing where Windows 8 needs improvement really underlines Windows 8.1. It's not so much an update with some stand out features and big name changes, but more of a refinement of the existing operating system. All of these minor changes add up to big improvements in the way you can use Windows 8.1 across touch and keyboard / mouse. Microsoft has had time to sit back and witness the reaction to Windows 8 and see exactly how people are using the product. With Windows 8.1 we're seeing very real changes based on that.
"We really have a great sense of where we got the details of these bets right and where we actually maybe missed a little bit," admits Microsoft's Antoine Leblond, who oversees Windows Web Services. The good thing is that Microsoft is correcting some misses after just months on the market, and it's coming as a free update for existing Windows 8 users. If Microsoft can keep this rapid pace of improvement for Windows then it has a real chance of challenging others in the tablet market, providing even more touch-friendly apps are made available. The PC is in decline and tablets are taking over consumer spending, so Microsoft and its OEMs have to ensure tablet offerings are solid.

For those who were reading OneThirtySeven last year, you'll remember a lengthy period during which I was outrageously excited for Windows 8. Although I joined a great many with decrying the ill-advised "no compromises" mantra, I still held a great deal of optimism for the revival of an otherwise uninspired piece of software.

Today, I feel virtually no enthusiasm whatsoever.

Of course the design is interesting and I'll pay close attention to the Surface's second iteration, but, otherwise, I simply have no reason to care.

The core problem is that Windows 8 promised to be an audacious and disruptive entity in the marketplace. And yet, for virtually every facet of thoughtful experimentation, it was obvious that a businessman had offset the value of a disruptive idealist.

When Apple first introduced OS X, it was riddled with problems. The design was new, software was unstable, and it lacked developer support. But Apple held true to its guns. Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to be strangled by the tension between volatile idealists and dull pragmatists.

Several days ago, John Moltz shared a thought regarding Windows 8:

This could be a transitional phase. We Mac users didn’t immediately stop using all Classic applications when we switched to OS X, either. I wonder, though, based on current reports of Microsoft retooling Windows 8.1 to make it less “Modern” (which is apparently the new name for “Metro”), if they have the stomach to see it through.

This is precisely why I can no longer muster sincere excitement for the operating system. Touting the return of the Start Button and watching comments threads ignite with enthusiasm is outrageously discouraging.

Microsoft was bidding for something grand and different, but it hamstrung itself with a lack of confidence.

Google Glass, albeit in alpha form, has not shied away from its identity as an agent of controversy. The reason is because controversy is a characteristic of a disruptive technology. No one should feel immediately warm and fuzzy about a piece of technology destined to change the way we interact with the world.

Google and Apple have both owned their controversial and revolutionary promise as elements of their marketing. Microsoft, however, is clearly torn. They have bold, colorful advertising touting a revolutionary new technology, but they betray the technology with a lack of character strength.

Perhaps Microsoft can right the ship. This update certainly promises to — in Warren's words — "right Windows 8's wrongs." In doing so, perhaps it can even regain some users it may've alienated with Windows 8. Those are certainly not bad things in a traditional sense. But without the fortitude to contribute something truly new and useful for its customers, then how could I possibly consider myself a serious proponent?

The narrative of Windows 8 and its successors is not supposed to be about re-introducing removed features and tweaking minor nuisances. It's supposed to be about re-defining the way we engage with our personal devices. And with the tweaks and regressions of 8.1, I just simply cannot see how they intend to tell that story any longer. It's disingenuous.

And, more importantly, it's a shame.

Nokia's Massive, Microsoft-Shaped Problem

Tom Warren, The Verge:

Nokia just unveiled its Lumia 925 at an event in London, and I've managed to take an early look at the handset ahead of its release in June. Nokia has swapped out a unibody polycarbonate look and feel for metal. Aluminum to be precise. The result is a stunning, slimline Lumia that weighs just 139 grams. It's really noticeable when you pick up the Lumia 925 for the first time. With a polycarbonate rear, and aluminum frame wrapping around the side of the device, it feels almost as plastic and lightweight as a Samsung Galaxy. But the aluminum makes it a lot more sturdy and brings it to similar design and hardware levels as Apple's iPhone 5.

With the release of the Lumia 925 and the HTC One, the first half of 2013 has brought gifts of truly phenomenal industrial design, but failed to deliver in terms of software — both experientially and aesthetically.

Marry either the One or the 925 with stock Android and I daresay you'd have truly impactful devices on the market to challenge the iPhone.

Mar both the One and 925 with a subpar software experience, however, and you continue to face the same aged problems endemic to the marketplace.

Although I comprehend HTC's dogged loyalty to its Sense skin amidst a poorly differentiated Android market, Nokia's dire attachment to Microsoft is simply baffling.

In its early stages, the allegiance, admittedly, made sense. Microsoft was willing to provide money and support, thereby saving Nokia, whilst Microsoft also received an aesthetically admirable hardware arm. It was a symbiotic relationship that provided clear benefits to all parties.

Today, on the other hand, Microsoft has increasingly distanced itself from Nokia and the purported benefits of the relationship have been left by the wayside. In an effort to catalyze growth in its ecosystem, Microsoft has thrown its support behind HTC and rumors continue to swirl regarding a Surface-branded phone. Meanwhile, Nokia has been left behind with its devices, burned with the Windows Phone 7-to-8 upgrade debacle, and so on.

Nokia continues to bless a stagnant — albeit attractive — operating system with genuinely beautiful hardware. Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to court competitors, ignore its most valuable hardware asset, and fail to drastically cover any ground in its game of competitive catch-up.

The relationship is, in other words, poisonous to Nokia. We've watched as the firm has built multiple iterations of fantastic products only to be underserved on the software side. And as stock Android arrives at a point of true attraction and viability, the tragedy of the situation only worsens.

The Lumia 925 is both a triumph of design and a failure in business. It's objectively well-considered, whilst also being a vapid disappointment.

Unless Microsoft can provide a compelling reason for Windows Phone adoption in its — presumably impending — yearly update, there's simply no reason to purchase a Lumia 925 beyond its good looks. And that's a shame for customers, a problem for the competitive landscape, and ought to be a dire concern for Nokia.

Dell Urged Microsoft to Avoid Confusing Windows Branding

Tom Warren, reporting for The Verge:

Dell executive Jeffrey Clarke has reportedly revealed that he urged Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to avoid using the Windows brand for the company's Windows RT operating system. The Australian Financial Review reports that Clarke said the new OS for ARM-based tablets should be called something other than Windows, but Ballmer insisted the brand was too important.

Considering Dell's comic affinity for confusing branding, the fact that Clarke spoke with Steve Ballmer on the topic speaks volumes.

The entire Microsoft ecosystem is mired with baffling branding, compounded by Microsoft's seeming inability to make any semblance of a firm decision regarding software mechanics, branding, and hardware. The lingering nature of the Windows brand is resounding evidence of a company too fearful to truly disrupt the status quo. 

For all of the colored squares and angular backdrops, Windows 8 and RT continue to be plagued by an extraordinary lack of foresight and self-control from within Microsoft. Considering the operating system no longer relies upon a windowed UI, the Windows moniker clearly remains only to coax consumers into a purchase.

Not only is this lazy, but it betrays a deep-seated lack of confidence within Microsoft. Steve Ballmer is evidently fearful of launching a new OS brand for fear of sacrificing customers — a fact which offers a scathing indictment of the affability, purpose, and longevity of Windows.

Consumers thrive upon confidence — a quality which is unquestionably bereft from Microsoft's branding and marketing rhetoric. As Mr. Warren wrote ten days ago, it's simply time for the WIndows brand to be retired. Without getting in front of that inevitable narrative, Microsoft will continue to castrate and embarrass itself in front of its consumer base.