Fearless forecast: What’s in the pipeline from Windows 9?

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Windows 8 has been with us for a couple of years now and its reception in the marketplace has been tepid at best. A lot of users found the interface changes in Windows 8 to be unpalatable. In fact, many users elected to keep the familiar environment provided by Windows 7 on their desktops, and not upgrade to Windows 8 at all.

What will Windows 9 do to improve on Windows 8?Now that a new version of Windows is on the horizon — generally referred to as “Windows 9” — it seems clear that Microsoft is as disappointed with Windows 8 as anyone else. So what can users expect to see from the new release that will rinse away the lingering bad taste of Windows 8?

Before we get into it, there are two caveats to bear in mind. First, we don’t yet know what this version of Windows will actually be called. Given the poor overall response to Windows 8 (and the almost equally indifferent reception of the hastily assembled Windows 8.1), it’s fairly safe to assume that the new product will not be called Windows 8.2. The trend in the industry is to refer to it as “Windows 9,” but this name is not actually official. At this point, Microsoft is only calling it “Threshold.”

Second, everything you’re about to read is rooted in rumor, speculation, and conjecture. Only a few individuals outside of Microsoft have actually gotten their hands on Threshold. Everything we know at this point is based on a few screenshots and videos that were posted on the web after being leaked from an early build. This means that everything I talk about here could change as Microsoft prepares its beta build for release (according to most accounts) at or about the end of September. In fact, CertMag will be posting a follow-up article after the Windows 9 beta is in the field, so I can compare my forecast to the actual new OS.

So with those disclaimers in mind, let’s take a look at what you can expect from … we’ll call it Windows 9. For starters, let’s consider the potential interface changes. Microsoft made a key mistake with Windows 8 by attempting to stitch a standard desktop interface to a mobile device interface within the same operating system. This gave the operating system a split personality. You could run traditional Windows applications in the familiar Windows desktop environment. Apps from the Windows store, on the other hand, ran only in the Metro mobile interface.

That meant a lot of switching back and forth and users didn’t like it. Windows 8 desktop users wanted to stay in the desktop environment, while mobile users had little use for a miniaturized desktop facsimile. In addition, Windows Store apps ran full screen in the Metro interface. You couldn’t use multiple apps in separate windows. This is fine when implemented on mobile devices, but frustrating for those working in a desktop environment.

From what has been leaked thus far, it appears that Microsoft has seen the light. Like Windows 8, Windows 9 will be available across hardware platforms — including desktops, tablets and phones — but significant changes have been made to the user interface.

For example, the mobile device interface will be split off from the desktop interface. All indications are that Windows RT 9 will not include the desktop environment that was included in Windows RT 8.x. This change makes a lot of sense as you couldn’t do much in the tiny desktop environment on mobile devices. Traditional desktop apps wouldn’t even run in this environment on mobile devices, with the exception of a handful of specially-ported Microsoft applications. It appears that Windows RT 9 will only provide the Metro mobile interface for use only on mobile devices.

Likewise, the desktop versions of Windows 9 will use only the desktop environment. No more Metro on the desktop! As you would expect, all of your traditional Windows desktop applications will run in the desktop environment in Windows 9. All of your apps from the Windows Store, however, will now run within windows on the desktop as well.

This is good news! No more switching back and forth between environments! In one of the leaked pre-beta builds of Windows 9, there was still an option available that would allow you to re-enable the Metro interface if you wanted to. The general consensus, however, is that this option will probably be removed prior to the upcoming beta release.

Another important interface change expected in Windows 9 is the re-introduction of our old friend the Start button on the desktop. One of the key issues users had with Windows 8 was the replacement of the Start button with the Start screen. Users hated it, plain and simple. In Windows 8.1, Microsoft tried to make things right by putting a faux Start button back on the desktop, but it was a half-hearted attempt. Basically, all it did was take you back to the Start screen and alas, users still hated it.

In Windows 9, the Start button is back and it appears to be better than ever. All of the functionality we have come to expect from the Start button in earlier versions of Windows is there, along with some new functionality. For example, the Start button in Windows 9 appears to have a miniature version of the Start screen integrated within it. This allows you to view live tile content, pin your favorite apps, and launch apps without having to jump back and forth between environments. It’s pretty sweet!

Because the old Start screen functionality has been nicely integrated into the Start menu, there’s really no further need for the Charms bar in the desktop version of Windows 9, although it will remain in the mobile version. This is one feature of Windows 8 on the desktop that I never understood. The Charms bar works great on touch-screen mobile devices, but is really clunky and unnecessary for desktops. Thankfully, it will be gone (I hope) in Windows 9. All of the functionality that was accessed through a charm (such as the PC Settings app) will now be accessible through the new Start menu on desktop systems, just as nature intended.

Another new feature in Windows 9 is the use of virtual desktops. Now, if you’ve got a background in Linux, you’ll probably yawn at this feature because it’s been around in the Gnome and KDE desktop environments since the late 1990s. If you’re strictly a Windows person, however, then I think you’ll really be intrigued by this new feature. Instead of one single desktop, Windows 9 will provide you with multiple virtual desktops. If you’re like me, you probably have a lot of windows open on the desktop during your work day. Things can get really cluttered fast. By adding virtual desktops to your work environment, you can keep things organized and neat.

For example, you can have your Word or Excel application running on one desktop, while your email client and web browser run on another desktop. You could also have your Mahjongg app running on a third virtual desktop, for use when the boss isn’t looking. All of the apps and applications on each virtual desktop run concurrently, just as they would if they were all running on the same desktop. Each virtual desktop is represented by an icon on the taskbar that allows you to switch between them as needed. It’s a great way to keep things organized so you can work more efficiently.

The last new feature of Windows 9 that I’ll discuss here is the inclusion of Cortana. Cortana is a virtual assistant that Microsoft initially released for the Windows Phone earlier this year. Microsoft is rumored to be including it in Windows 9 as well. If this rumor is true, Cortana would add voice-activated interactions into Windows 9 in much the same manner as Siri on Apple products. For example, Cortana would provide voice-activated searches as well as verbal notifications.

An interesting aspect of Windows 9 that will be worth watching is the pricing structure. If you’ve ever bought a stand-alone copy of Windows in the past, you know it’s not cheap. Many times, it seemed worth the extra expense to just purchase a new computer with an OEM copy of Windows already installed. The cost difference between the two options wasn’t all that great.

Apple, however, has been putting a lot of pressure on Windows pricing. As you probably know, Apple has been giving away operating system version upgrades for free to existing Apple device owners. To keep Windows customers from looking over the fence at Apple, Microsoft will probably need to revisit its pricing strategies. And this is where it gets interesting.

Rumor has it that Windows 9 will be priced much lower than earlier versions of Windows. We already saw this with the initial release of Windows 8. Early Windows 8 adopters were able to buy it for only $39.00 US, which was an unheard-of price. As time passed, the price crept upwards, increasing first to $69.00, and later to full price ($199.00). It will be interesting to see whether Microsoft follows a similar model with Windows 9, or whether they will be forced to adopt a fixed lower price.

That’s about all that I can tell you about Windows 9 at this point. The beta release of this operating system is projected to occur at the end of September 2014. Obviously, we’ll know a lot more at that point. And that’s when I’ll give you my take on which rumors and speculation panned out, which were false, and which fell somewhere in between. Keep an eye on CertMag.com to see how things turn out. Until then, this is Robb Tracy signing off.

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Robb Tracy


Robb Tracy is an IT consultant and certification guru. He has written numerous certification study guides, as well as being featured in a series of training videos for TestOut's Pro line of certifications.

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