SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft is trying to reverse slumping PC sales and quiet growing criticism of its flagship operating system with the release of a revised version of Windows 8.
On Wednesday, Microsoft made a preview version of Windows 8.1 available for download. It includes alterations meant to address consumer dissatisfaction with the operating system. Analysts believe users’ frustration with Windows 8 is partly to blame for the biggest drop in personal computer sales in nearly two decades.
At a conference in San Francisco, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer acknowledged that the company pushed hard to get people to adopt a radical new tile-based “Modern” user interface in Windows 8. Microsoft is now back-pedaling, making it easier to reach and use the older “Desktop” interface.
“Let’s make it easier to start applications the way we’re used to,” Ballmer told the audience of software developers. “What we will show you today is a refined blend of our Desktop experience and our Modern experience.”
Windows 8, released Oct. 26, was Microsoft’s answer to changing customer behavior and the rise of tablet computers. The operating system emphasizes touch controls over the mouse and the keyboard, which had been the main way people have interacted with their personal computers since the 1980s.
Microsoft and PC makers had been looking to Windows 8 to revive sales of personal computers, but some people were put off by the radical makeover. Research firm IDC said the operating system actually slowed down the market. IDC said worldwide shipments of personal computers fell 14 percent in the first three months of this year, the worst since tracking began in 1994.
Among the changes present in Windows 8.1, users will be able to boot up in Desktop mode. There, they’ll find a button that resembles the old Start button, which may make it easier for longtime Windows users to get accustomed to the changes.
Other new features of Windows 8.1 include more options to use multiple apps.