Although Microsoft is addressing much of the criticisms with Windows, it is positioning the update as more than just a fix-up job. From its perspective, the tuneup underscores Microsoft's evolution into a more nimble company capable of moving quickly to respond to customer feedback while also rolling out more innovations for a myriad of Windows devices — smartphones, tablets or PCs.
It's crucial that Microsoft sets things right with Windows 8.1 because the outlook for the PC market keeps getting gloomier. IDC now expects PC shipments to fall by nearly 8 percent this year, worse than its previous forecast of a 1 percent dip. IDC also anticipates tablets will outsell laptop computers for the first time this year.
Microsoft is addressing that shift by banking its future on touch controls. Its strategy calls for having just one operating system work on both tablets and traditional computers. That allows popular Windows programs such as Office to work well on tablets, too. But in making Windows easy for touch screens, mouse and keyboard commands are more complex to use and figure out.
Apple and Google, on the other hand, believe people use those machines differently and have opted to keep their operating systems separate. Apple, for instance, believes that it can be tiresome to have to constantly move your arm to touch a desktop or laptop screen. That's not a problem with tablets because you're already holding it.
As for the growing interest in smaller, cheaper tablets, Microsoft has said the company was working with other manufacturers to make some. But it has yet to confirm reports that it is making its own. A smaller Surface with an 8-inch screen would be significantly smaller than its current, 10.6-inch models.
Such a device would coincide with Intel Corp.'s recent release of a new chip line called Haswell. Intel said Haswell chips offer a 50 percent improvement in battery life over the previous generation when playing back high-definition video.
In an indication that Microsoft Corp. is clearing out inventory of a Surface tablet running the lightweight Windows RT operating system, the company is effectively cutting the price of that by including a keyboard cover for free. The cover sells for $120 or $130 on its own.
Microsoft also said this month that it would give buyers of the RT version of Surface the Outlook email and calendar program at no extra charge — joining other Office freebies Excel, Word and Power Point — and sweetening the offer for the device that is priced starting at $499. That will come as part of the Windows 8.1 update.
Build conference: http://www.buildwindows.com
Windows site: http://windows.microsoft.com
Windows 8.1 site:
AP Technology Writer Peter Svensson contributed from New York.
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