Microsoft (MSFT) launched the Windows 8.1 Preview today at BUILD. Paul Thurrott's Supersite for Windows has a hands-on look at the operating system upgrade. The VAR Guy has to give Microsoft some credit here -- especially ahead of Worldwide Partner Conference 2013 (WPC13). Is Windows 8.1 fabulous? That's not the point. Rather, Microsoft seems to be getting more nimble and responsive as a middle-aged company. Here's why.

First, let's look at how Microsoft lost its way. 

  • 2007: The company launched Windows Vista in January 2007, claiming it was the most significant product launch in the company's history. Instead Vista bombed just as Apple was launching its first iPhone.
  • 2009: Microsoft finally responded with Windows 7 in 2009 to fix the Vista mess. It was a solid Windows release, but the market landscape shifted again...
  • 2010: ... when Apple launched the iPad in 2010.

By 2012, Microsoft finally delivered Windows 8. The launch included the usual pomp and circumstance. By around April 2013, Microsoft said Windows 8 had sold about 100 million licenses but chatter in the market suggested the new operating system was not catching on. In fact, Gartner says Windows' overall market share (across PCs, tablets and smartphones) will be only about 15 percent in 2014. Even worse, PC sales have been tanking.

Moving Faster... And Smarter?

Instead of spending months or years in denial, Microsoft conceded Windows 8's user interface needed improvements and the company fast-tracked Windows 8.1's Preview arrival.

Smart move -- assuming the enhancements are good. Paul Thurrott certainly sounds impressed. But most of the Windows 8.1 noise lacks partner buzz. Where are all the VARs who plan to:

  • Refresh thousands of aging Windows XP systems with new Windows 8 desktops?
  • Mobilize customers with Windows 8 tablets and Surface devices?
  • Go vertical with touch-enabled Windows 8 solutions that empower health care practices, retail outlets, insurance agencies and more?

Frankly, The VAR Guy is still waiting for Windows 8 channel partner buzz. Perhaps the 8.1 release -- combined with Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2013 (WPC13) in July) will help the case.