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1/15/2014
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Windows 9: What We Know

With Windows 8.1 floundering, Windows 9 rumors have picked up steam. What can you expect from the next version of Windows?

7 Mistakes Microsoft Made In 2013
7 Mistakes Microsoft Made In 2013
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

After keeping a low profile at last week's International Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft is back in the headlines this week, thanks to a flurry of reports about Windows 9.

Based on its tepid usage share, Windows 8.1 isn't persuading many people to upgrade. Windows 9 will allegedly offer at least two improvements that could help Microsoft turn things around: the return of the Start menu, and the ability to run windowed Modern apps on the desktop. But if those items sound enticing, you'll have to be patient. The update isn't expected to appear until spring of 2015. Here is what to expect:

1. Windows 9 will introduce not only new features, but also a simpler Windows lineup
As mentioned, Windows 9 is expected to restore the Start menu, which has been absent since the original version of Windows 8. It will also allow Modern apps, currently confined to the tile-oriented Start screen, to be run in floating windows on the desktop, presumably just like legacy applications.

Windows 8.1 brought back Windows 7's start button and added a boot-to-desktop mode that allowed PC users to bypass the tablet-oriented Start screen. The changes haven't been enough to tempt longtime customers into upgrading, let alone into buying new PCs. Perhaps Windows 9's nods to the mouse-and-keyboard crowd will be better received.

To some users' chagrin, Windows 8.1 brought back the Start button but not the Start menu.
To some users' chagrin, Windows 8.1 brought back the Start button but not the Start menu.

Windows 9 will also likely introduce a more unified code base among Microsoft's various Windows platforms. With assets such as SkyDrive, Windows 8 already enables users to seamlessly translate data across various devices and services. Windows 9's common code should only advance this agenda.

[Microsoft moves to bolster its customer relationship management software. Read Microsoft Parature Buy: Think Self-Service CRM.]

After initially mis-marketing how Windows 8 is different from Windows RT, Microsoft might also use Windows 9 to debut a new, more coherent set of offerings: a consumer-oriented version for ARM-based devices that will focus on Modern apps, receive frequent Windows Store updates, and eventually include the merging of Windows Phone and Windows RT; a second consumer-aimed version optimized for desktop software that will still run Modern apps and receive frequent Windows Store updates; and an enterprise-focused version that will receive fewer updates and will be available only through volume licensing.

The restored Start Menu might appear only in the latter two versions, though this point is reportedly up in the air due to the possibility that ARM-based 2-in-1 tablets and all-in-one PCs would benefit from a desktop mode.

2. Microsoft has yet to officially acknowledge Windows 9, but is expected to do so in April
Microsoft hasn't confirmed anything about Windows 9, but some of the details echo things Microsoft leaders have said, and all of the information comes from sources with good track records.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley reported on December 2 that Microsoft was planning a wave of Windows updates code-named Threshold. The report claimed the updates would arrive in early 2015 and deliver a foundation of "high-value activities" across platforms -- a remark reminiscent of outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer's justification for keeping Microsoft in the consumer business. These activities include Office, Bing, IT management tools, apps, games, and content -- basically every infrastructure point and user experience that might need to extend across devices.

Citing inside sources, Windows expert Paul Thurrott said a week later, on December 9, that the "next version of Windows" would bring back the Start menu and accommodate windowed Modern apps. Foley reported the same day that Microsoft would introduce a new lineup of Windows versions, including some intended to be friendlier to longtime PC users. The website The Verge subsequently cited its own unnamed source claiming that Microsoft is looking at separate Windows versions for consumers and enterprises.

Last weekend, Thurrott said Threshold would be an April 2015 release. His sources claimed Microsoft will introduce the OS at a "vision" level at its upcoming BUILD conference for developers, slated for this April in San Francisco. Thurrott said Threshold development will begin around the same time. He also said BUILD will focus on Windows Phone and Xbox.

Microsoft is likely to call Threshold Windows 9 in order to distance the OS from Windows 8 and 8.1, according to Thurrott's sources.

3. Windows 9 rumors paint Windows 8 as a failure
As the previous paragraph implies, the Windows 9 rumors can be read as an indictment against Windows 8. In public, the company remains confident about "the new Windows." But from bringing back to the Start button to using the name "Windows 9" instead of "Windows 8.x," every decision described in the reports suggest a creeping acknowledgement that the Win 8 strategy simply isn't working.

By all accounts, it isn't working. In the last few years, people have shifted more of their computing to mobile devices and delayed or cancelled PC upgrades. Late 2012 was precisely the wrong time for Microsoft to alienate its core users, but that's exactly what Windows 8 did. Even though Windows 8.1 is a worthwhile (and, for Win 8 users, free) upgrade, Net Applications found that as of December 31, only 3.6% of desktop users had bothered. Almost twice as many users were still running the original version of Windows 8, and seven-year-old Windows 7 gained almost as much ground in December as Windows 8.1 did.

All of this could be somewhat forgiven if Windows 8 had helped Microsoft take a meaningful swipe at Apple's iPad -- but it hasn't. Microsoft's Surface RT evidently sold well on Black Friday at some retail locations, but the device was discounted to the extent that Microsoft won't be making much, if any, money on individual unit sales. Even if you're inclined to view such data in the most optimistic light, it's still clear the Surface line -- and Windows tablets in general -- are living off the iPad's table scraps. The research firm IDC expects Windows tablets to account for only 10% of worldwide tablet shipments by 2017 -- a respectable amount, but still only one-third of the iPad's projected share. With Chromebooks and Android devices eating into low-end sales and Apple's products entrenched among high-end buyers, Microsoft and its OEM partners will face pressure on device prices and margins.

Demand for Windows 8.1 is still pretty flat in the enterprise, Forrester analyst David Johnson told InformationWeek this week in a phone interview. He said some companies have begun to look at Windows 2-in-1 tablets due to employee demand, but that as most businesses consider new tablet deployments, there is "still a strong preference for iOS."

Johnson also said Windows users still want the Start menu back and that some businesses are uneasy about Microsoft's shifting Windows update cycle. If recent reports are accurate, Windows 9 could address both of these concerns -- albeit not for another 16 months.

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Matt Healy
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Matt Healy,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/9/2014 | 8:31:16 AM
Like New Coke and Coke Classic
So in 2015 Microsoft may bring back features they introduced in 1995!
wht
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wht,
User Rank: Strategist
1/28/2014 | 7:05:19 PM
Re: On purpose?
That's a bad thought.  I happen to like Win 8.1, waiting for 9 to be even better.
wht
50%
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wht,
User Rank: Strategist
1/28/2014 | 7:01:10 PM
Re: The fun REALLY starts in April
If Win 9 is free or just a few $$ I would upgrade, and not wait.  Will likely cost more later on.
CesarQ425
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0%
CesarQ425,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/26/2014 | 3:45:13 PM
windows upgrades
i dont understand users , personally i am a windows 8.1 user and im absolutely love it. I dont need the start button and im tired of using floating icons. Dont you get tired of using the same appearance for me metro interface was not bad at all. I personally think some people are just afraid of new things. We got to change this attitude or and embrace new innovatoons and stick to old ones. Moving forwards creates new things .
concrete
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concrete,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/23/2014 | 5:41:24 AM
Re: The fun REALLY starts in April
Fingers crossed they'll add in some of Jays great fixes for Windows 8. Not sure im happy with 'apps' being usable in floating panels tho... it seems like too much of a compromise. There should be a clear split between finger friendly apps and mouse users... something thats fixed on installation and gives either use the best possible experience IMHO.
susheelkumar
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susheelkumar,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/17/2014 | 2:57:22 AM
Windows 9: Good to know
It doesnt matter how advance the OS is, but it should be easy to use and simple. I am a windows 7 user, windows 8 was good but had few issues like simplicity and what is where. I am working for a big MNC but our IT department is not recomending the 8th OS. Lets see how it goes with 9.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
1/16/2014 | 4:35:53 PM
Re: Not Sure I Agree...
Thanks for the great thoughts.

"Does bumping a product's version number indicate the prior version is a failure?"

I definitely see your point-- and I agree: bumping a product's version number doesn't intrinsically signal that the previous version failed. But Thurrott's source seems to have indicated that Microsoft is opting for Windows 9 expressly to differentiate the product from Windows 8. In the context he presented, the implication isn't that Win 9 is just a new iteration; it's that Win 9 is a new iteration that has to undue the bad will caused by Windows 8. It's not quite the same situation as iOS bumping from version 3 to version 4, or something like that.
moonwatcher
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moonwatcher,
User Rank: Strategist
1/16/2014 | 3:19:09 PM
Re: Microsoft should buy some good will and now is the time to do it.
Not free maybe, but how about say $39 for for a limited time for those upgrading from XP to Windows 7. Many with XP did not take advantage of the $39 Windows 8 upgrade deal because there was some confusion as to whether you could even install it on a motherboard that didn't support UEFI. If they could offer Windows 8 for $39, surely they wouldn't be losing much by providing Windows 7 for the same price. 

Don't forget that Vista was received badly, perhaps even worse than Windows 8, so people had little incentive to upgrade to it. Later on when Windows 7 came out, people were by then just comfortable with XP and stuck with it, seeing little benefit in upgrading. But now that XP has reached end of life, people DO have valid, imperative reasons to upgrade.

Either that, or go out and buy a new box with Windows 7, throw a flavor of Linux on the old box, and wait and see if Microsoft will throw out a "deal" for Windows 9 in 15 months.

I just hate to see all these millions of XP boxes end up in landfills simply because people didn't perceive them as being worth upgrading, hence making that upgrade "cheap" might allow them to be used for several more years.
rradina
IW Pick
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
1/16/2014 | 2:04:12 PM
Re: Microsoft should buy some good will and now is the time to do it.
While I won't disagree that the cost of a Windows license is hard to swallow, for over a decade they've provided free XP patches.  It might be reasonable for them to offer XP folks a reduced-cost license.  Oh -- wait....didn't they already do that when Vista debuted, again when Windows 7 debuted and yet again when Windows 8 debuted?  While Microsoft can certainly afford this and I agree that it would build good will, it certainly isn't because Microsoft doesn't deserve something from XP folks.  There's also those folks who are still running on original XP-class hardware.  I think they've more than received a fair value for their initial purchase and other than keeping the good will of a loyal customer, I can't see how Microsoft owes them a free upgrade.
moonwatcher
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moonwatcher,
User Rank: Strategist
1/16/2014 | 12:08:02 PM
Microsoft should buy some good will and now is the time to do it.
Given that millions of PCs are still running XP and that Microsoft is pulling the plug come April 8th, they ought to provide Windows 7 upgrades for nearly free to this vast installed user base. That would at least win back some of the consumer good will they have lost with the Windows 8 fiasco.

This would also help prevent the proliferation of malware due to all those unpatched XP boxes.

If Microsoft truly cared about their customers they would at least entertain this idea.
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