To distance itself from the Windows 8 snafu, Microsoft’s next major update – Threshold – will reportedly skip Windows 8.2 and jump straight to Windows 9 (Editorial note 03/10/2014: Now known as Windows 10). Windows 9 is expected to arrive in April 2015, with internal sources saying that Windows 9 will make good on many of the Windows 8 features that caused such cruel and unusual distress to Desktop users.
The Start menu is expected to make its illustrious return, and you should be able to run Metro apps on the Desktop in windows. Microsoft is still on schedule to release Windows Phone 8.1 and a service/feature pack for Windows 8.1 at the Build conference in April.
This latest information comes from the ineffable Paul Thurrott, who usually has pretty accurate sources when it comes to Microsoft leaks. We had previously heard about Threshold, but at the time we thought Microsoft would stick with the Windows 8 naming scheme. By moving to Windows 9, it definitely signals that Microsoft is looking to make drastic, significant changes. Windows 8 is almost completely characterised by the maligned Metro Start Screen. We would be surprised if Windows 9 did not change the primary interface in some way, so that it’s visually distinct from Windows 8 – so that users know that that it isn’t “ewww” Windows 8. Windows 9 might even boot straight to the Desktop, by default – at least on laptop and desktop PCs, anyway.
Windows 9 is also expected to feature Metro 2.0 – some kind of maturation of the current Metro design language that dominates the Windows 8 Start Screen and apps. It’s not immediately clear what Metro 2.0 will be exactly, but part of it appears to be the ability to run Metro apps in separate windows on the Desktop. Presumably, if Metro apps are going to be on the Desktop, they will also gain the ability to be controlled with a mouse and keyboard. (Navigating current Metro apps with your keyboard is unpleasant to say the least). Windows 9 may also feature complete cross-platform app compatibility between Windows 9, Windows Phone 8.1, and the Xbox One – but really, it’s too early to tell at this point.
Thurrott’s other interesting tidbits revolve around April’s Build conference, which occurs a couple of weeks after the company finishes its huge internal reorganisation. While the conference will be mostly focused on Windows Phone 8.1 and the Xbox One, there will apparently be a “vision announcement” for Windows 9 – something that we haven’t seen since 2003, when Microsoft unveiled Longhorn (which later became Vista). During Sinofsky’s reign, Microsoft’s Windows division was incredibly secretive – this Windows 9 keynote probably won’t be quite as crazy and freewheeling as the olden days, but Microsoft hopes that it will be enough to begin the process of healing the wounds left by Windows 8.
Of course, now that I mention Longhorn, it’s impossible to ignore the parallels between Vista and Windows 8. Both were victims of Microsoft’s long and slow development cycle: Slow and bloated Vista arrived just as netbooks were taking off, and Windows 8 – though its heart was almost in the right place – was a couple of years too late. Hopefully the successor to Windows 8 will be as good as Vista’s successor.
Microsoft kind of needs a miracle for Windows Phone 8.1, too – if you think that adoption of Windows 8 has been bad, it’s even more anaemic on the smartphone side of the equation. The next 12-18 months will be very important for Microsoft: It must either field a compelling OS and ecosystem for smartphones and tablets, or it runs the risk of fading into consumer obscurity.