Sitting in a conference room at Microsoft Windows headquarters in Redmond last week, Tami Reller was surrounded by a fleet of touch-screen notebooks and tablets from major PC makers, representing a new wave of Windows 8 machines set to hit the market.

The message: 90 days after Windows 8’s launch, there’s more coming, and soon.

Tami Reller shows an early version of Windows 8 last year. (Microsoft photo)

Windows 8 is off to a “solid start,” but “we are only getting started,” said Reller, the Windows vice president in charge of marketing and finance, who (with engineering chief Julie Larson-Green) was one of two execs named to lead Windows upon the departure of Windows president Steven Sinofsky in November.

But even as Reller and the Windows team look ahead, questions linger about the Windows 8 launch — the most radical Windows overhaul in decades.

For example: What about the decline in PC shipments for the fourth quarter? Why haven’t Windows 8 machines made a dent in the tablet rankings? And why didn’t Microsoft and its hardware partners do a better job of anticipating the demand for touch-screen notebooks over the holidays?

Those were among the questions asked by GeekWire during a discussion about Windows 8 last week wih Reller and Aidan Marcuss, Windows Research principal director. Running a PowerPoint presentation from her Windows 8 machine, Reller recapped the Windows 8 launch, looked ahead to the next wave of products and answered our questions along the way.

Continue reading for highlights from the discussion.

Reller on Windows 8’s first 90 days: We are only getting started. That’s not to say that we’re not evolving rapidly. We are. As we reflect on these last 90 days — and it is good to reflect on these last 90 days — if you look at the level of innovation that we’ve even brought to market through the updates, it’s more than 90 days worth of progress. This was not a “ship and take a vacation” team. This was ship and evolve. That’s happened in the product. That’s happened in the work we’re doing at retail to help customers navigate. It’s everything. It’s a fast-moving team that’s incredibly optimistic. That’s how I would describe the buildings and the mood.

On the degree of change with Windows 8: To build the types of devices that are now coming to market, we needed to expand the chipsets — start working with partners we’d never worked with before — and even with Intel we’ve dramatically expanded the level of effort and the number of projects we’re working with them on. So the chipset expansion, an entirely new developer platform, opening up the new Windows Store, bringing touch to everything, and then of course throwing in a new UI for good measure. So it’s an incredible amount of change.

On collaboration with hardware partners: Four years ago, we started talking to partners about Windows 8 — calling it Windows Next at that point, and talking about the fact that touch is the future. … We get wiser and wiser. We continue to tune our programs and our levers just to make sure that everything’s pointed in the same direction. This is a core belief — has been a core belief. And of course what Windows 8 does uniquely is it brings touch to every form factor. That’s the uniqueness of Windows, and it’s a unique point of view for Windows 8, not drawing these bright lines between form factor types.

Q: Given the advance notice and the collaboration that you had with the hardware makers, why weren’t there more touchscreen notebooks, or enough to meet the demand, available in that first quarter on the market?

Reller: I go back to where I started, with just the level of change that our ecosystem needed to absorb with Windows 8. … There were some outstanding questions. Touch laptops: Would that take off? Part of it is you have to get in the market to know what’s going to be wildly popular. Blame is not even an interesting conversation. It’s just a matter of, we all needed to get a lot done leading up to launch, and then just focus on getting more and more out the door as the selling season went on.

Could Microsoft have done more to give your hardware partners the technical guidance they needed? Was that the issue?

Reller: We were more sophisticated than ever in providing the specific work with the suppliers, as well as certification along the way. Could we have done more? Of course. There’s just no other answer to that question. Just making sure that absolutely every program lined up. I’m sure there was more. We did a lot, and we certainly did more than we’ve ever done in any other release in being clear about the requirements. But it’s a big change in a fast-moving environment.

Marcuss: With Windows 7 (by comparison), the machines we launched with were the machines we had that year. The devices didn’t (change) a whole lot after launch for a while. What we see with Windows 8 and the device cadence that we see is that the devices are going to be added to substantially each of the upcoming selling seasons. A little bit of it is the physics of a pipeline, having a robust set of products where everyone is going to accept them and be really happy with the experience. It’s better to focus on making sure you have great touch everywhere, than having touch everywhere and some of it being great, and some of it not.

Reller: Having that quality bar — it’s there and no regrets.

Reller on Windows 8’s progress so far: We announced 60 million (licenses) on January 8th, so that’s a distant memory at this point. But I think it’s a good representation of where we are — that’s OEM licenses (sales of Windows to PC makers) plus upgrades. 11 percent revenue growth (in the Windows division in the latest quarter) — that’s real growth across the business. We’re often asked about the new PC business, or the OEM business, and that was even with last year.  We look at this and we say, this is a solid start. It absolutely is a solid start. More to come, and it’s going to come in the next two selling seasons, for sure, but a solid start.

Q: Worldwide PC shipments are down at least 5 percent, and Windows tablets didn’t crack the top 5 in the tablet rankings. Is it really fair to say it’s been a solid start?

Reller: Absolutely. The OEM revenue being even with last year is really how you compare to the PC market. We were better than the PC market on our OEM revenue. Absolutely it would have been great to participate more fully in the tablet market at holiday. That’s the one area that would have made a difference in our results, no doubt. So we’ll talk about some of the tablets that are coming up. We made an explicit choice to really launch and learn with Surface. In so many ways, Surface is really launching in February. Some of that caution and different shipping cadence on certain chips, etc., certainly made a difference. I think about what we had in market, and that’s a solid start.

Q: When you look at the 5 percent decline in shipments — PCs in the fourth quarter, compared to fourth quarter of 2011 — it feels like the Windows PC market is slipping.

Reller: The best way to compare the PC market is to look at the OEM revenue. That’s how we usually do the bridge. The 11 percent revenue growth takes into account our upgrades. With upgrades we said, let’s make upgrades as easy to make that decision as possible, and as easy to download as possible — $39.99 online. And so we had good uptake on the upgrades.

Q: Why didn’t Windows 8 lift the PC market?

Reller: So much has changed. I think that’s part of the challenge. We always want to compare one release that happened three years ago to a release now. The PC market and the device market, they’re just evolving significantly. The idea with Windows 8 was to not just continue to just play in this massively large PC market but to be able to participate in the broader device segment. That’s what we look at, and we say how do we make sure we full-on have opportunity across that category. There’s really this broader device category and (the issue is) how well over time we participate in that.

Q: Have the sales of Windows 8 so far  met Microsoft’s internal projections? 

Reller: We wanted to make sure that we had a great start in both OEM business as well as our upgrade business. We feel good about this.

Q: Can you say whether it’s met your internal projections? 

Reller: We’ve never share that type of number externally. That would get tricky over time.

(Note: See Paul Thurrott’s reporting on this topic.)

Q: What about the transition after Steven Sinofsky’s departure — how are things going, how are your roles shaking out in the Windows team?

Reller: A lot more has stayed the same than has changed. Julie and I knew how to work together really closely, and really well before. That has continued, even spending more time together. We figured it out pretty quickly. Julie had to shift a bit of things, because she has a much, much bigger role. My role stayed a lot the same. It’s going really well. … We’re moving fast. We essentially had one day of disruption and then things started moving forward fast.

Q: Can you say anything about plans to release updates to Windows on a more accelerated timescale? For example, every year, a major new update to Windows?

Reller: Here’s what I can say. If we look at the last 90 days, the pace of change, and the pace of evolution and improvement is very fast, and I think that’s a good reflection of how we think about how fast and fluid we want to move forward. Just look at what we’ve been able to accomplish.

Coming up: Reller on the Surface Pro tablet, and its price.

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  • Guest

    Microsoft needs to change its name to Excusesoft because increasingly that’s all we get from them. This morning alone I’ve read two detailed articles from users listing numerous things that are still wrong with WP8 and pleading with MS to fix them and improve its release cadence. How bad are things when your own users get so frustrated that they take a chunk of their time and provide you with a not only a problem list but also the suggested resolution? And the answer from MS isn’t “stay tuned, we’re on it”, like you’d hope after all the time they took. Or at least “thanks, we’ll get on it”. Instead it’s “If nothing else, know that we hear you!”. Seriously? The competition isn’t belatedly “hearing” the unmet needs of its users. They’re delivering new features before users even know they want/need them.

    And now I’ve read two interviews with Tami (yours and MJF’s) regarding W8. In each she gets asked legitimate questions only to dodge them entirely, provide half truths (OEM sales being equivalent. That’s a reflection of higher ASPs due to less netbooks in the mix, not a sign that W8 is doing so well), or give some PR gobbledygook. The Windows 8 launch has been poorly handled and they didn’t make their projections. Tami can dance around that all she likes but it doesn’t change it, nor does it convince anyone otherwise. Everyone knows that if MS had made their numbers they’d be the first to say so, for either W8 or Surface. And there’s no excuse for the lack of W8-based tablets. Winning there was critical; it’s the main audience W8 was designed for. Either MS didn’t have a clue what its partners were really up to or the partners lied to MS about their intentions. Either option is a problem. And the updates since launch? What updates is Tami talking about? Bug fixes? Because I haven’t seen any significant feature enhancements. Speaking of which, I was also blown away by her admission to MJF that they know the native apps in W8 suck. Then why did they ship them in the first place? This product launch is critical to MS’s future. The company knew that. They spent THREE years developing the product. There’s simply no excuse for those apps being as pathetic as they are and worse the team shipping them anyway. And how long until they’re fixed? Not minor updates like we’ve seen, but basically rewritten? W8 RTM’d in August. Given that they knew, or should have known, that these apps sucked before that, they’ve had six months or more to fix them. What’s the hold up? Some competitors are rev’g entire OS releases in six months. Yet MS can’t fix a handful of crappy applets even when they have numerous excellent internal examples they can copy from?
    MS these days seems to be led by people who want credit for effort regardless of results. Instead of anticipating what’s next and leading, they consistently get surprised by the competition, are forced back to the drawing board, take three years to respond (which itself is inconsistent with remaining competitive), and then still show up to market with glaring deficiencies and oversights which they proceed to pretend don’t exist, aren’t important, or otherwise make excuses for. This mindset needs to be stamped out and the entire organization inverted from current such that 75% of time is spent coding/delivering exciting new features, not planning or promising to.

    Fire Ballmer. Fire the Board. Reject this Frank Shaw/Tami Reller meme that repeated failure is acceptable and even desirable. Start Over.

  • Jean-Jacques Dubray

    Isn’t it time that we change the way we measure markets? Shouldn’t we factor in the lifetime of computing devices and what they are used for (work, web, social, media)?

    I can safely predict dysmal growth numbers for smartphones and tablets in a 1-3 year horizon. Would that mean we use them less? I doubt it, I even doubt that the “man-hours” spent using a device in the Windows ecosystem dropped.

    Growth is also impacted by the size of families. It’s easy to “upgrade” if you can pass an “old” device to a family member, once we all have one, the question becomes why should I spend $500-1500 a this new flashy toy?

    Windows 8 and Surface for sure had a modest start but we have to be very careful in interpreting these numbers otherwise we are just comparing Apples to Oranges.

    That being said, the days of “pay-to-upgrade” are over. Microsoft is shooting itself in the foot to with a 3-decade old business model. Everything must be sold as a service and delivered incrementally. Either you need it, or you don’t. If for nothing else, Microsoft spends a huge amount of resources maintaining totally outdated versions of Windows, Office, … and drags its ecosystem down in the process because all the ISVs have to do the same. Not to mention the security aspects of that mess.

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