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Microsoft 'Threshold' leaks suggest return of Start menu and unified Windows

Microsoft's follow-up to Windows 8, the operating system revamp code named Threshold, could reintroduce the Start menu ditched in the original Windows 8 release and further chip away at differences between the Redmond firm's flagship PC platform and the software running the Xbox One and Windows phones.

At least that's the skinny being delivered by Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott and veteran Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley, who this week wrote that Threshold is being developed as part of Microsoft's "One Windows" strategy and is being slated for release in the first half of 2015.

Threshold, according to Foley's unnamed inside sources, is set to come out in three distinct SKUs, all based on the same Windows kernel. There will supposedly be a "modern (i.e., Metro-Style/Windows Store) consumer SKU," she wrote, evolved from the platform-homogeneous Windows Runtime application architecture beneath the beleaguered Windows RT OS.

This platform would underpin "Windows Phones, ARM-based Windows tablets/PCs, phablets, and other kinds of tablets," as well as some Intel-based systems, it would maintain the live tile, touch-based interface of the current Windows 8 OS, and it "wouldn't be optimized to run Win32 apps," according to Foley.

A second iteration of Threshold could be a "more traditional consumer SKU." This could be a viewed as a return of the old, familiar Windows whose passing many PC users mourned with the October 2012 release of Windows 8.

"This SKU would include a desktop and be customized so that mouse/keyboard users will be able to continue to have some semblance of productivity and familiarity with Windows," Foley wrote.

Thurrott elaborated on some of these rumours with information from his own in-the-know sources, who reportedly said the next version of Windows for traditional PCs will have an option to run the old Start menu — much as the Windows 8.1 update reintroduced the Start button — but will also allow for "Metro" apps to run in "floating windows on the desktop."

Finally, there are a couple more versions of Threshold being developed at Microsoft as it builds its multi-layered, next-gen software platform, Foley reported. First is a "traditional enterprise SKU," which certainly makes a lot of sense for a company as dependent on commercial customers and a massive installed base as Microsoft is.

This enterprise edition of Threshold "would include all the usual business bells and whistles, like support for Win32 apps via a Desktop environment, support for group policy, device management, and more," according to Foley.

As with the rumoured Metro-style and traditional consumer PC versions of the next big OS release, the enterprise edition would tie in to the Windows Store framework for app sourcing, a consolidation of software distribution mechanics for Microsoft that would also tie in with the way the company administers its Xbox network.

But unlike the consumer device/PC and Xbox platforms, which Foley said would be updated "frequently/constantly" via the Windows Store-based cloud, the next-gen enterprise OS "might be subject to IT policies/approvals, making enterprise users who don't want silent, automatic updates a lot happier."

Finally, according to Foley, Microsoft's Embedded software unit may produce "some additional device-specific Windows "Threshold" SKUs for embedded devices and usages, such as point-of-sale terminals, kiosks, etc."