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Our first glimpse of Windows 9 may be right around the corner, as the new rapid-fire Microsoft scrambles to put the stigma of Windows 8’s disastrous launch in the rear view mirror.
Microsoft is set to officially unveil Windows “Threshold”—as it’s currently code-named—at a press event on September 30 or soon thereafter, according to the Verge’s Tom Warren. A week ago, ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley reported that Microsoft was targeting a “technology preview” for Windows Threshold in late September or early October. Both Warren and Foley are well-connected Windows watchers with a firm track record; the duo was the first to report on the Windows Blue update that eventually evolved into Windows 8.1, for instance.
The Start menu and the ability to run Metro apps on the desktop are definitely coming to Windows 9.
Rather than being a sweeping overhaul in the vein of Windows 8, Windows Threshold actually appears poised to dial back the gargantuan changes found in that operating system. Microsoft has already announced that the Start menu is coming back to the OS, joined by the ability to run Metro apps in discrete desktop windows. Recent leaks (including Foley and Warren’s own reports) suggest other, mostly pro-desktop tweaks are inbound, including virtual desktop support, the removal of the Charms bar, and—possibly—the introduction of Windows Phone 8.1’s sassy virtual assistant, Cortana, to Windows proper.
Hopefully there’s more to Threshold than simple UI changes. We can think of other features we’d like to see in Windows 9—15 of them, in fact. We’ll know for sure what’s making the cut before long, if the two reports prove true. And if they do, Microsoft will reportedly make the technical preview public, so that developers and enthusiasts alike will be able to take Windows 9 for a whirl. Fingers crossed.
Brad Chacos spends the days jamming to Spotify, digging through desktop PCs and covering everything from BYOD tablets to DIY tesla coils.
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The stars are aligning in Redmond, analysts suggest, and there’s a good chance that Microsoft can lead the tablet race after being smothered by Apple and Android in 2013. Microsoft hasn’t been in such a strong position for years.
”The tablet in the enterprise is theirs to lose,” says Aberdeen Group analyst Andrew Borg.
Everything from PC refresh cycles to the booming tablet market to trends that put the device-purchasing decision back into IT’s hands are turning in favor of Microsoft.
Let’s start with the most dramatic, highly anticipated turnaround in technology today, as shown in a Forrester survey conducted late last year: iPads held the vast majority of BYOD tablet deployments, with Android coming on strong and Windows 8-based tablets practically nonexistent. But plans in the next 12 months show Windows 8-based tablets surging from far behind to lead the pack.
In the big picture, tablets are replacing laptops, much like laptops replaced desktops at the turn of the millennium. In 2014, the worldwide tablet market is forecast to grow 47 percent, while the worldwide PC market is estimated to remain flat after declining 9.9 percent in 2013, according to new research from Gartner. Interestingly, the PC market’s slide has been halted by an uptake in Windows ultramobiles, which are smaller than tablets.
Essentially, Windows 8-based tablets are benefiting from a mass migration to a small form factor.
Then there’s the PC refresh cycle that can lead to more Microsoft tablet sales, which, ironically, was prompted by Microsoft’s Windows 8, whose adoption has cratered. With Windows 8, new computers won’t be running Windows 7.
This means IT has limited options for the PC refresh: stick with Windows 7 PCs although they’re being phased out or go to Windows 8. If it’s the latter, says Borg, why not go with cheaper tablets? (Sure, IT could choose to switch platforms, but it would lose all its Windows management and control tools.)
Of course, all of this presumes that IT makes the purchasing decision for the PC or tablet, which, in the age of BYOD, isn’t a sure thing. But the pendulum might be shifting away from BYOD and back toward IT. Emerging models such as COPE (Company Owned, Personally Enabled) are putting CIOs in charge again over what devices employees use. Truth is, BYOD PCs and tablets are too big a security risk.
Employees don’t mind, either. They’d rather have the company shell out hundreds of dollars for a PC or tablet rather than having to dig into their own pockets. Employees just want a tablet for both work and personal activities. Virtual work space technology, or perhaps app wrapping, also promises to keep those activities separate, maintaining security for work-related data and privacy for personal stuff.
All Microsoft has to do is deliver a tablet that doesn’t have to beat the iPad but must be in the same ballpark, in terms of an easy-to-use touch interface, quick access to media, cool apps—in essence, a tablet with a delightful user experience. Right now, though, Microsoft’s Surface tablet has a split personality, Borg said. It doesn’t know if it’s a PC or tablet, and business people throw up their hands after a while moving between these two modes.
If Microsoft can fix these problems, the company stands to gain huge momentum and market share in the tablet enterprise race as well as the consumer and small business markets.
”Microsoft is about 75 percent of the way there, and in 2014, I expect them to get to 90 percent,” says Aberdeen’s Borg. “If Microsoft plays its cards right, they’re the logical inheritors of the laptop refresh cycle.”
This article was updated at 10:01 a.m. PT to correct the date in the headline.
A couple more Windows Phone features are apparently headed to Windows 9, with signs of Wi-Fi Sense and Storage Sense showing up in the latest leaked preview builds.
Wi-Fi Sense is a feature of Windows Phone 8.1 that automatically signs users into public Wi-Fi hotspots. It can accept terms of service on the user’s behalf, and fill out a phone number, name and e-mail address if required, so the user can quickly get online with little effort. Wi-Fi Sense also share network credentials with Outlook, Skype, and Facebook contacts, so they can connect to your local Wi-Fi without knowing your password.
A leak from WinFuture.de shows evidence of Wi-Fi Sense in the next version of Windows, but the app itself isn’t available in the latest builds. Wi-Fi Sense would be a great feature for tablet and laptop users, since they don’t necessarily have a mobile broadband connection to fall back on.
WinFuture.de also found a working version of Storage Sense. In Windows Phone 8.1. Storage Sense lists apps in order of size, and makes it easy to remove multiple programs at the same time. It also includes a removal tool for temporary files, and lets users define default save locations—including removable media—for music, pictures and videos.
Granted, those features are already available on Windows in some form. For instance, you can sort programs by size in the “Programs and Features” section of Control Panel, and can remove temporary files with the disk cleanup utility. You can also change the properties of your documents folders to set them in a different location. But these settings aren’t easy for users to find. Storage Sense could replace them as a one-stop shop.
Leaked details on Windows 9 have been coming in at a rapid clip ahead of an expected reveal on September 30. New leaks over the weekend provided more details on a unified notification center and virtual desktops. The first public preview for Windows 9 will likely arrive late this month or early next month.