Bill Magee: Admission of failure is new ground for technology giant

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FOR Microsoft’s ebullient head honcho Steve Ballmer, the sensation will feel profoundly unusual, to say the least.

He has had to admit that the tech leviathan has been wrong-footed in its attempts to prolong the life span of an already virtually dead-in-the-water global PC market with its much heralded touchscreen Windows 8 operating system.

Mr Ballmer is not renowned for his U-turns in private, never mind in public. Nevertheless, Microsoft’s chief is still grinning all the way to the bank, with more than 100 million Windows 8 licenses already sold. What can possibly be wrong with that? It appears plenty.

Microsoft has uncharacteristically admitted to a major commercial cock-up that will be the talk of global tech circles for months, as it copes with a major glitch affecting key aspects of the flagship software. No-one doubts that Windows 8 represents an audacious attempt by the tech giant to update the PC for the tablet era, with its touch command interface based on multi-coloured “tiles”. The trouble is that, amongst features negatively received by users is the absence of one: the familiar desktop, that’s “hidden” for some inexplicable reason.

Microsoft admits that is a mistake and expects this to be corrected as it continues to battle with arch rival Apple, whose generation of iPads and iPhones are generally viewed as having flatlined in terms of both innovation and sales.

Can Microsoft’s Windows 8, once the necessary changes are made, bridge the gap between PC and tablet, capture consumers’ imaginations, and change analysts’ largely negative opinion of the operating system?

Ballmer, indefatigable to the last, will certainly think so. However, it will take all summer for Microsoft’s boffins to iron out the glitches, in what has been codenamed Windows Blue. Expect a relaunch around October with a more familiar touchscreen interface.

• Bill Magee is a technology commentator and writer based in Edinburgh