SAN FRANCISCO -- Microsoft is trying to avert slumping PC sales and 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," Mr. 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."
Microsoft and PC makers had been looking to Windows 8, released Oct. 26, to revive sales of personal computers, but some people have been put off by the radical makeover. Research firm IDC said the operating system actually slowed down the market. Although Microsoft says it has sold more than 100 million Windows 8 licenses so far, 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.
Windows 8 was also supposed to make Microsoft more competitive in the growing market for tablet computers. But Windows tablets had less than a 4 percent market share in the first quarter, compared with 57 percent for Android and 40 percent for Apple's iPad.
New features of Windows 8.1 include more options to use multiple apps, more integrated search results and a broadening array of applications specifically written for Windows 8, among them one from Facebook.