Windows 8 confusion: Why retailers are essential to Microsoft’s success

Opinion by Claire Reilly

Microsoft launched the hugely-anticipated Windows 8 operating system today. Retailers stayed open late to offer it up for sale at midnight last night and suppliers have been working for months to bring a raft of hardware products up to date with the new touch-focused software.

But despite all the preparation and anticipation, the hard work really starts now.

There is every chance that retailers will be faced with a great deal of confusion from consumers, whether they’re looking to purchase the software, upgrade their home PCs with the newest iteration of Windows or purchase a new tablet, ultrabook, notebook or all-in-one PC that is pre-loaded with the OS.

For starters, there are three versions of new Microsoft software – Windows 8 Pro (which is the only version available for purchase in bricks and mortar stores and can only be used to upgrade machines from older Windows platforms), Windows 8 (the regular version which has not yet been released as a standalone product in Australia) and Windows RT (a scaled down version for use in “thin and light” devices such as tablets).

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At the launch today, there was a great deal of confusion amongst journalists about how Microsoft was pitching the three iterations of Windows. When specifically asked about what the company was doing to eliminate confusion between RT and Windows 8, Tina Flammer, Windows Business Group Lead for Microsoft Australia provided the following response:

“With Windows 8, we have three versions of Windows. We have Windows 8, which has the familiar Windows features that you know, we have Windows 8 Pro which is the addition that is for professionals and tech enthusiasts. The newest member of the family is RT, and RT is designed for thin and lights, and for impressive battery life. So as you take a look at what’s exciting right now about Windows 8, it’s the amazing stunning devices that you’ll see and get your hands on, and our consumers will get a great choice.”

With further questioning, Flammer conceded that it was up to the consumer and their personal needs. From there, it comes down to retailers finding out what the consumer wants to do with their computer or tablet and then “you would choose a device to match your need”.

However, with so many devices on the market – from hybrid tablet/computers to larger all-in-one touchscreen PCs – consumers will be faced with a great deal of choices on hardware alone, before choices between versions of Windows even come into it.

If there is no clear demarcation between what the different operating systems will offer consumers – and from Microsoft’s responses today there was no quick, easy to understand elevator pitch on each version – retailers will have a tough job educating consumers on features and benefits.

To be clear, there are some fantastic innovations rolled out in the new Windows software. The live-updating tiles on the home screen, the intuitive inclusion of multi-touch controls, the dedicated apps (including those from Westpac and Australian games developers) and the completely personalised home screen experience will all be very strong selling points for many consumers.

And Microsoft also reiterated that it has embarked on an extensive training program with retailers, with further support available to retailers in the form of advertising, merchandising, support teams and online training.

But retailers still have a tough job ahead when it comes to talking through the complexities of different operating systems, and it remains to be seen whether the average punter will be able to wade through the confusion.

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