Windows 9 will be launching tonight at 6:00pm London time (BST), and ITProPortal is going to be on hand bringing you minute by minute coverage. But what should you expect from the new Microsoft operating system, tantalisingly codenamed "Project Threshold"? More of the same, or a dramatic change in direction? What about Windows 8? Will Windows 9 have fixed many of the problems users had with Windows' beleaguered operating system?
Here are a couple of things we know about Windows 9, so you know what to expect going into the launch.
The return of the start menu
The biggest change will of course be the re-introduction of a Start menu for keyboard and mouse systems. We’ve seen leaked screenshots of this (the one above being an example), and it looks good. It takes the Windows 7 Start menu and adds tiles from the Windows 8.x Start screen, to produce a hybrid menu that offers the best of both worlds.
The menu will only be available to desktop users (obviously), and they’ll be able to toggle the tiled part on or off, which will please anyone who really, really hates the look of the tiled "Metro" UI. The divisive Modern UI will still exist for PC users (well, those who want it), but it'll be much more closely integrated with the desktop. Users will be able to run Modern apps in windowed mode on the desktop, which is definitely a step in the right direction.
Goodbye charms bar
Possibly even more divisive than even the Windows 8 Metro UI was the charms bar, an irritating overlay that popped out of the righthand side of the screen whenever your mouse hovered over it. Allowing access to some quick settings and other features, the charms bar is rightly derided by most Windows users.
While it does come into its own on touchscreen laptops and tablets, the thing was just too much of an annoyance for everyone else.
Thankfully, the Windows 8.x’s Charms Bar - the menu that pops up on the right-hand side of the screen when you hover your cursor in the bottom right corner - is to be removed from the desktop. Microsoft will probably keep it on tablets as it works very well there.
It's still not clear whether Microsoft will be removing the Charms Bar on tablets, but it is apparently "certain" that the feature will be stripped from desktop PCs. If true, this is likely a move by Microsoft to make its operating system more user friendly to mouse and keyboard users.
Multiple virtual desktops are expected to be introduced with Windows 9, a handy feature Linux (and Unix) users have enjoyed for a while. This is a great move from Microsoft, and shows the company's renewed commitment to power users.
According to sources close to Microsoft, the first will be a desktop version, designed to be used with a keyboard and mouse. It will feature the Start menu and may also allow Modern apps to run inside windows like more traditional applications. The second, in contrast will be a Modern-style edition, focused on apps for tablets, while the third will merge Windows Phone and Windows RT to work across ARM handsets and tablets.
In addition to these consumer versions, there will also be an enterprise edition, but apparently this may only be available via volume licensing.
Welcome to Windows 9, Cortana
Microsoft's ostensibly "Siri-killing" digital assistant Cortana is set to make the transition from the mobile platform to Redmond's desktop OS, at least according to the latest rumours on the matter.
Cortana will be arriving with Windows 9 according to Neowin, which has been keeping close tabs on Windows Threshold via its sources.
Previously, there were signs of Cortana being incorporated and tested, but that has now been escalated to a point where Microsoft isn't just looking to see if the digital assistant might fit into Windows 9. Rather, now it's been pushed forward from engineering builds to a more stable release cycle – in other words, Redmond isn't merely tinkering any more, but is serious about introducing Cortana to Windows 9.
As to how important Cortana could be in Windows 9, well, Neowin notes that currently it's just a simple app in a small window, rather than any sort of fully integrated feature. Of course, that could change and Cortana could be brought more to the fore (or indeed retired, for that matter – all this is still testing).
Expect to see numerous other UI and cosmetic tweaks - Microsoft needs to distance Windows 9 from its predecessor, and a fresh coat of paint will help here. But don't be too surprised if taskbar icons suddenly look and behave more like mini live tiles in the Metro UI.
So what do you think? Will Microsoft's new OS live up to the legacy of its predecessors? Will it correct its wrong turns? Let us know in the comments section below, or drop by and chat to us on ITProPortal's tech talk live chat.