I’ve been taking reporter calls in the run up to today’s Microsoft Build announcements about Windows 8.1 Preview. They want to know: Will this be the turn around? What does Microsoft have to do to succeed? I’m pleased to say that last October Forrester predicted that Windows 8 would have a bumpy birth year, but would eventually mature and take hold in 2014 as Microsoft moved to update Windows on an annual cycle. Further, we were very clear that reports of Windows’ death were greatly exaggerated.

Today’s new details on Windows 8.1 show that Microsoft is on track for updating Windows annually, that they’re engaged in significant product improvements and they are listening to market feedback. There were a ton of improvements and new built-in apps. Among all the details, three were the most significant to advancing Windows:

·         Smart Search. By combining Bing’s web search with search across my devices and Skydrive, search becomes more relevant and personal. We’ll be watching to see how third-party developers can use this and where Microsoft goes with it. Very interesting.

·         Making Windows desktop modern and more synergistic. The tweaks to allow the desktop background underneath the Start Screen and the return of the Start button make it feel a little less like I’m running two PCs in one, but the difference is still jarring.

·         Microsoft Office for modern. This is big. Microsoft left a huge vacuum when they announced Office 2013 without any mention of when they’d make a modern version– it was as glaring a gap as not offering Office on the iPad. One down, one to go.

I come away from the announcements believing that Microsoft has better product and product team integration than Google and is focused on creating cohesive experiences for the individual across work and personal. Their challenge is a messaging and marketing one – can they break into the industry conversation that is so focused on Google and Apple? I think they can, but it won’t be easy.

Meanwhile, I’d like to see Apple do more on integrating the work and personal aspects of their customer experience. I think Microsoft will work hard to take advantage of their strong presence in the workplace by offering more tools and capabilities to help us all manage our whole lives, not just the work or personal parts.