Who’s on First? About That Windows 8.1 Update

One of the more entertaining things about covering the IT industry over the last decade has been watching Microsoft’s marketing efforts for their many and varied products. There have been some laudable successes: The Windows 95 launch had an inspired (and epic) “Start Me Up” ad campaign featuring The Rolling Stones that introduced us all to the ubiquitous (and now soon-to-return) Windows start button and menu. Or the launch of the original Xbox at CES in 2001, which featured Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) giving Bill Gates keynote presentation tips. Or how about the seamlessly efficient roll-out of Windows 7, which helped Microsoft recover from the Vista debacle that inspired Apple’s infamous (and devastatingly effective, despite not always being factual) Mac vs PC ads?

Microsoft’s Marketing Mix-Ups

Then there were the marketing and messaging fumbles worthy of a corporate face palm, which Microsoft has never had a shortage of. Anyone remember the Internet Explorer ad with a projectile vomiting spouse? Or the inscrutable “Now you see me, now you don’t” feature-removal bingo game also known as the Xbox One launch campaign?  Or unfortunate product naming gaffes like Microsoft Equipt and the entire Windows Live product family? Or Live services family? Or whatever it was?

Now Microsoft is entering new territory with the second update to Windows 8, which has been officially christened the “Windows 8.1 Update” after being referred to in the press (and informally by Microsoft) as either “Windows 8.1 Update 1” or “Windows 8.1 Spring Update.” It’s a product naming scheme that seems to invite even more consumer confusion, but I’m willing to give the Microsoft marketing team a pass: Trying to effectively market and communicate the benefits of the original Frankenstein-esque union of touch and desktop metaphors in Windows 8 would be a Sisyphean task for anyone.

Windows 8.1 Update close minimize window

Windows 8.1 Update has a host of new features, including new minimize and close buttons for modern apps. Pity about the update name, however. (Source: Microsoft)

I’m not the only one that thinks Microsoft’s Windows 8 marketing update messaging is a convoluted mess. Paul Thurrott over at the Windows Supersite has decided to keep referring to the update as Windows 8.1 Update 1, while Microsoft SharePoint MVP (and IT Unity co-founder) Dan Holme recently asked on Facebook: “Why the F%$@ didn’t they just call it Windows 8.2?”

Who Has the Windows 8.1 Update?

So with a hat tip to the original Abbott and Costello comedy routine “Who’s on First” — and a wink in the direction of the Windows 8 marketing team — here’s how I’d imagine two college students might discuss the confusing messaging around the latest Windows 8 update.

Setting the stage: Abe is a CIS Major and Costas is an English Major as Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. Abe has more technical computer knowledge and usually helps his friend with his computer issues. We join their conversation as they’re discussing the Windows 8.1 Update announced at Build 2014, and which was released to end users on on April 8, 2014.

Abe: So have you updated Windows 8 yet?

Costas: Yes! I’m now running the Windows 8.1 update.

Abe: So you already have the Windows 8.1 Update? It just came out earlier this week.

Costas: Yep, I downloaded the update a few months ago, around October? I think it was free.

Abe: You couldn’t have downloaded it last year. The Windows 8.1 Update was just released.

Costas: What update?

Abe: The Windows 8.1 Update.

Costas: No, I did get it last year. I have Windows 8, and now I have Windows 8.1, the update.

Abe: No, you just have Windows 8.1.

Costas: Yes. I have the Windows 8.1 update.

Abe: It just came out. So unless you have an MSDN subscription – which I know you don’t – you couldn’t have upgraded before April 8th as an end-user.

Costas: No, I don’t have an MSDN subscription…

Abe: Or you downloaded it from some warez site. You know you can get viruses and stuff from doing that, right? Like Cryptolocker, or STUXNET, or something. You’re not surfing those, you know, sites that require credit cards… are you?

Costas: No! Geez, what don’t you get? I HAD Windows 8, and then I got the Windows 8.1 update. Can. You. Under. Stand. The. Words. Leaving. My. Mouth.

Abe: Dude, you’re an idiot. You had Windows 8, right?

Costas: Yes.

Abe: And then you got the Windows 8.1 update, right?

Costas: Yes.

Abe: So now you need to get Windows 8.1 Update.

Costas: This conversation is going nowhere.

Abe: So you have Windows 8. Then you upgraded to Windows 8.1. Now you need Windows 8.1 Update.

Costas: You’re making absolutely no sense. Are you high?

Abe: [Sighs audibly] Forget it, let’s get something to eat.

So are you as perplexed by Microsoft’s messaging around Windows 8.1 Update as everyone else seems to be? If so, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me an email or touch base with me on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook (see below).