Software // Operating Systems
News
2/28/2013
10:07 AM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Windows Blue: How Will Windows 8 Evolve?

Windows Blue, Microsoft's alleged follow-up to Windows 8, may emerge by June. One prediction: Don't hold your breath for a retreat from the tiled look.

Microsoft Surface Pro: Is It Right For You?
Microsoft Surface Pro: Is It Right For You?
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)

For months now, Windows Blue has been the software equivalent of Sasquatch -- which is to say, much-discussed, seldom glimpsed and possibly not what everyone assumes. Big Foot has yet to stomp from folklore into reality, but recent leaks suggest that Windows Blue will make its public debut relatively soon, perhaps as early as June. Microsoft has been mostly mum on the alleged Windows 8 update, refusing to officially verify that it exists. Even so, the rumors have begun to converge around common themes. How does Redmond intend to make its new, touch-friendly OS gain momentum?

Speculation began in August, more than two months before Windows 8 hit the market, when ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, citing unnamed sources, wrote that Microsoft was already at work on something called Windows Blue. Whether the new project would be a de facto Windows 9 or a Windows 8 service pack wasn't clear, but Foley asserted that the endeavor would transfer Redmond's upgrade cycle to an annual model, discarding the multi-year spans that have traditionally separated one iteration of Windows from the next. More recently, Foley reported that Windows Blue will encompass a variety of Microsoft platforms, including Windows Phone, SkyDrive and Windows server.

Claims posted in February to Win8China, meanwhile, suggest Windows Blue will become a public preview in June, with general availability slated for August. Other rumors making the rounds: Windows Blue will be built on a new kernel, include Internet Explorer 11 and offer faster computing while consuming less power. Windows Blue could also be a free upgrade intended to bolster adoption.

[ Microsoft has yet to hit its stride with Windows 8. See Windows 8: Microsoft's Progress Debated. ]

Job postings that refer to Windows Blue, meanwhile, have only added fuel to the fire. The most recent developments include sources telling The Verge that the project includes an improved Bing search charm.

The resignation of Windows chief Steve Sinofsky looms behind all the chatter, as it's too early to tell whether Blue will represent an evolution of Microsoft's current strategy or some sort of corrective response to Windows 8's mixed progress.

Reading into the few tea leaves, though, one can divine a few insights into Microsoft's approach. Faster update cycles mean that new features will reach end users more quickly. Windows 8 might be the newest version of a longstanding product, but because it departs so heavily from previous editions, it's essentially a Version 1 release in many respects. To gain market share, Redmond needs to offer a more polished user experience. It will get there much more quickly if it offers iterative enhancements every 12 months, rather than monolithic refreshes every couple of years.

Also significant is the implication that Microsoft is further unifying its Windows family around common code. On the desktop side, Redmond's application offerings lead the class, but the company isn't yet competitive with Apple or Google's respective mobile portfolios. By making it easier for developers to write a single application for all Windows flavors, Microsoft would be addressing one of its glaring weaknesses.

At the same time, the rumors have suggested that UI tweaks will be confined to making the tile-based Modern start screen into a more cohesive experience. Microsoft seems intent on conditioning users to its new platform, so anyone hoping for a major change, such as the reintegration of the Start Menu, is likely to be disappointed.

All Eyes On Mobile Apps

Businesses are curious about Windows 8 but "they were expecting something more," said Paulo Camara, head of mobility services at Ci&T, a Brazilian IT services provider with clients around the world. In an interview, he noted that enterprises have typically waited for a service pack before adopting a new version of Windows. Windows 8 is a bit different, he said, because its advantages over Windows 7 are mostly geared toward mobility, leaving desktop users fewer reasons to upgrade.

He said he expects Windows Blue "not to reinvent things but maybe to tweak them to make them more user-friendly." Certain applications behave differently in Windows 8's Modern interface than they do in the browser's more familiar Explorer mode, for example, and Microsoft would please some customers by simply smoothing over these wrinkles.

According to Michael Cherry, a Windows expert with Directions on Microsoft, Windows Blue is unlikely to change Windows 8's primary philosophy. In an interview, he said Microsoft executives "love to use gambling expressions" such as "we're all in" or "we've bet everything" to describe their newest OS. If Redmond were to back off now, he said, developers would feel discouraged from writing for the newest Windows platforms.

Cherry additionally said that Redmond seems resolved to roll through the early Windows 8 criticism. "Those concerns were raised well before they shipped [Windows 8]. When I look at it, I see no interest or inclination [from Microsoft] in taking that feedback," he stated. "I don't see that anything's changed that, despite Mr. Sinofsky leaving."

Microsoft should dedicate Windows Blue largely to improving the platform's app ecosystem, Cherry said. He noted that Microsoft's pre-installed apps aren't impressive, and that developers might not have the guidance they need. "If Microsoft can't even write compelling apps for it, it's safe to assume it's tough to write apps for that platform," he said.

"Nobody can tell us an app for Windows 8 that they just have to have," Cherry continued, adding that one "can debate whether the UI is right or not" but that killer apps are the key to use cases that will drive adoption. He mentioned that the iPad didn't have an extensive catalogue when it launched either, and that comparisons between iOS and Windows 8 are thus a little unfair. Still, he said, one can argue that it's "Microsoft's fault for not [addressing mobile platforms] years earlier."

Attend Interop Las Vegas, May 6-10, and attend the most thorough training on Apple Deployment at the NEW Mac & iOS IT Conference. Use Priority Code DIPR02 by March 2 to save up to $500 off the price of Conference Passes. Join us in Las Vegas for access to 125+ workshops and conference classes, 350+ exhibiting companies, and the latest technology. Register for Interop today!

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
GBARRINGTON196
50%
50%
GBARRINGTON196,
User Rank: Strategist
2/28/2013 | 9:35:36 PM
re: Windows Blue: How Will Windows 8 Evolve?
Windows is not dead to me. . . completely, that is. I still find value in my Adobe Lightroom software. But see no reason to go beyond Win7 at this point. If Microsoft tries to strong arm me to upgrade, I would remind them, I have Unbutu loaded on my system as a dual boot, just for fun.

In light of the positive response to the Unbutu Mobile OS, do they REALLY want me getting deeper into that world?
ePractical
50%
50%
ePractical,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 3:05:18 AM
re: Windows Blue: How Will Windows 8 Evolve?
Money will trump Microsoft's stubborn idealism.

I strongly believe that Microsoft is getting hardly any Upgrade business from classic Laptops and Desktops, basically the complete installed base.

If this is the case then MS will have to "unhide" the nested Start Menu and more robust search just to name a few necessary features, to make the Keyboard and Mouse useful to the Touch focused OS.

Case in point, I had 4x $12.99 Win8 Pro upgrade promos that I was going to let lapse today. At the last minute I discovered Start 8 for $4.95 which solves the above mentioned deficiency. Had I not found Start 8 - I didn't want any of those upgrades even if they were for free.

Windows 7 is a far better interface for keyboard and Mice. And most important, it lets us populate and organize our real-estate with the information and content WE WANT most accessible - not a Program and App centric filled screen that is only useful for a Touch interface. Also, notice they have to fill the space with big blocks for fat fingers to navigate too.
Palpatine
50%
50%
Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 10:58:46 AM
re: Windows Blue: How Will Windows 8 Evolve?
2.3% market share in January
2.7% market share in February, after launching Office 2013 and Surface Pro.
+0.4% increase was less than half the worst result Vista made at its launch, even with Office and Surface Pro launch!
If Office and Surface Pro cannot save Windows 8, nothing can.
I'll not holding my breath for they getting a clue Zune-like interface is killing their business, nor the rest of the world do, see sales / adoption rate figures!
Anyway, business is business, and if they don't get a clue, shareholders will, and the problem with tiles will end anyway, after MS shuts down.
GBARRINGTON196
50%
50%
GBARRINGTON196,
User Rank: Strategist
3/1/2013 | 12:37:14 PM
re: Windows Blue: How Will Windows 8 Evolve?
I'm not a Microsoft hater, the truth is my entire working life has been centered around the infrastructure built around the products of IBM and Microsoft. These two companies had a very profound effect on the United States and the rest of the world. But for the first time, I am starting to consider the possibility that Microsoft is NOT going to survive. Which is weird.

When Eastman Kodak failed, I was shocked, but it's end came as no surprise, it was a slow and torturous death. But I suspect a Microsoft collapse would be much quicker, which is in synch with the world that MS helped create. It's odd to consider that a company with such a profound effect on the world might not live beyond the life of it's creator. It is also odd to think that MS could have no place in a world it helped create.
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/1/2013 | 3:54:35 PM
re: Windows Blue: How Will Windows 8 Evolve?
Hi GBARRINGTON196,

Thanks for the message. It's a provocative point, and you're not the first one to raise it.

Still, I'd be surprised if it goes that far. Microsoft gets a lot of grief, but it's still a company with $60 billion in the bank and a lot of resources. Windows 8 is a big transition, which makes some initial struggles inevitable. I think Microsoft knew that enterprise sales would be soft for at least a year; analysts agreed on as much before the OS launched. Remond certainly hoped for more from consumers, sure, but there are still variables that could turn that around. An analyst recently told me that though Microsoft would have been thrilled with a bigger splash, the company's nowhere near panicked about its progress. I can buy that argument.

A lot of narratives are still being written. I think a few things have to happen before the outlook turns apocalyptic.

If Windows Blue (or whatever) comes along without addressing usability issues, that would be disappointing. Even so, I agree that apps might be the biggest deal; people will forget about some of their UI dissatisfaction if developers can spin awesome experiences out of the platform. If Redmond can give programmers the right motivation and direction, a lot could change. I've heard some criticism about Microsoft in this regard, but I also see the company making moves with developers in mind.

Other forthcoming factors... New Ultrabooks with better Intel chips, new tablet form factors-- for matters to turn truly bleak, those developments would have to fall flat through the rest of the year, and adoption rates would have to continue flat-lining over the same period. There are also companies experimenting with limited Windows 8 deployments right now. If productive use cases emerge and more compelling devices hit the market, the OS could pick up steam. If companies revert to iPads after testing out Windows 8, that'll be a different story. There's also the success or failure of Chromebooks, as well as whatever Apple, Samsung and Google come up with. It's one thing for Microsoft to catch up with, say, the current version of iOS, which is in an incremental upgrade phase. It's another thing if Apple somehow has anther revolution waiting in the wings. Plus, there's all the revenue Microsoft generates that isn't tied to the future of Windows 8.

So I don't think Microsoft is on the fast track to ruin. The bigger concern, I think, is that its best days might be behind it. I don't think Windows 8's slow progress is a sign of doom; most experts agree that adoption will gradually pick up, and the experts have been pretty accurate on Windows 8 so far. But a lot of the work we'll do in the future will involve interfaces that look more like iOS than Windows 7. Microsoft needs a presence in both worlds, and the longer it takes for its mobile plan to gain traction, the more entrenched people become in their current workflows.

But we'll see. A lot of people initially got the iPhone and iPad wrong; thanks to the consumerization trend, this stuff can turn quickly.
--Michael Endler, IW Associate Editor
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/1/2013 | 4:02:36 PM
re: Windows Blue: How Will Windows 8 Evolve?
Thanks for the comment. Interesting you bring up Adobe, which is attempting to use a subscription model for its Creative Suite that is somewhat similar to what Microsoft is doing with Office. I know of mac users who've gone over to Windows because they're dissatisfied with Apple's Pro Apps--e.g. Final Cut X, Aperture, Motion, etc. Adobe's Creative Suite is pretty fantastic, and Apple hasn't updated the Mac Pro in ages, so some creative professionals, rather than buying an iMac and running Creative Suite on OS X, are building cheap powerhouse PCs from scratch and running Creative Suite on Windows 7. In BYOD stories, a lot's been written about Apple's infiltration of the enterprise. Creative professionals - once one of Cupertino's core focuses, and still, it seems, an interest - might be one of the areas in which Apple has actually lost workplace market share. I haven't heard if there was a rebound after the Retina display MacBook Pros came out, though.

Anyhow, thanks for the thought. Hearing a bit more about Unbutu lately; I haven't heard it posed as a Microsoft concern, but it seems like it's gaining fans.
- Michael Endler, IW Associate Editor
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/1/2013 | 4:05:22 PM
re: Windows Blue: How Will Windows 8 Evolve?
Thanks for the comment, ePractical. Interesting perspective, especially in light of the rumor that Windows Blue will be a free upgrade.
- Michael Endler, IW Associate Editor
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/1/2013 | 4:23:53 PM
re: Windows Blue: How Will Windows 8 Evolve?
Thanks for reading, whsteffan. For what it's worth, I don't have strong feelings about the Start button, and I actually like the Surface Pro. But many people to whom I've spoken find the missing Start button to be a deterrent. They also dislike that some applications behave differently in the Modern UI than they do in the Explorer UI. Analysts I speak to say they hear the same things from clients. Commenters on this site have expressed similar sentiments. When I mention UI dissatisfaction, it's not to make Windows 8 look bad; it's to present the information that's been conveyed to me.

It appears you enjoy Windows 8, though-- and if so, please feel encouraged to share why. You seem passionate about it, so maybe you'll change some minds.
- Michael Endler, IW Associate Editor
newyorkcitymale
50%
50%
newyorkcitymale,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 5:21:49 PM
re: Windows Blue: How Will Windows 8 Evolve?
The "fixes" for Windows 8 are pretty simple (because consumers are telling Microsoft exactly what they do & don't like):

1-Make the Start button & Task Bar an option that can be toggled on (but is off by default)
2-Combine the two desktops/Start screens so there's only one
3-Beef up the Metro apps so they're more powerful & useful (add more functionality)
4-Make things easier to find
gilly05
50%
50%
gilly05,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 8:50:35 PM
re: Windows Blue: How Will Windows 8 Evolve?
I think part of the problem is that users/consumers are stupid. I was not the biggest fan of Windows 8 when it released, but I have come around. I now have a non-touch screen desktop with Win8 (multi-monitor), a Dell XPS One touch screen desktop, and a Samsung Ativ tablet all running Win8. I love the touch interface and the desktop is exactly like Win7. The issues I tend to have are with interactions between modern and non-modern apps, along with issues with multi-monitor (where the start screen appears on one monitor, but not the others, etc.... kind of annoying).

If MS could get more consumer apps (i.e., mail, flixter, yelp, facebook, pandora, etc.) they would make some headway. Beyond that, they need to make the interop between modern and non-modern apps better.

But, to be honest, I find it laughable that people complain about the lack of start menu or the Win8 search capability. The actual search in Win8 is better than Win7 and the means of performing a universal search is exactly the same... (1) hit the start button (2) type. That's it. The start button is replaced with a start screen that has guess what... icons. Sure, it sucks when you install an app and the start screen is filled with stupid icons you don't care about. Guess what... you can remove them with a right-click/unpin, same as in Win7.

In a year, people will have gotten used to the new UI, because it really isn't that bad. At the same time, MS will have improved it. That's the way it goes. People, including myself, didn't like a lot of the changes between XP and Vista. But, we got used to it and MS made it better in Win7. The same thing will happen here. The added benefit is that when they get it right, we get it across every device we own... phone, tablet, PC. Try doing that with an Apple device.
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest September 18, 2014
Enterprise social network success starts and ends with integration. Here's how to finally make collaboration click.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.