Leaks about future Windows updates: 2 steps forward, 1 step back

Leaks about future Windows updates: 2 steps forward, 1 step back

Summary: The Windows tablet experience improved quite a bit with the Windows 8.1 update. Rumors about what's coming next could muddy the waters if they turn out to be accurate.


Like many, I wasn't impressed with how Windows 8 worked on tablets when it was first released. That changed when Windows 8.1 hit the scene, as I found the touch tablet experience to be much better. Rumors are now appearing about features expected to be in the next big updates for Windows and if accurate, it appears Microsoft is sacrificing some touch tablet UX to cater to those using a desktop system.

Windows 8 confusion
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

It's important to understand that these are rumors, and as such they may never see the light of day. More importantly, they may never see the light of tablet screens.

Some are being reported by ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, and others by Paul Thurrott of WinSuperSite, two of the best sources for information about Microsoft. That makes it worth considering that these rumored changes may actually happen.

It's time to bury the desktop, not to raise it.

The rumors concern Windows 8.1 Update 1, the next major update to the OS, and Windows 9. The updates won't happen for months, so no doubt we'll continue to hear whispers about other new features that may be part of these upgrades.

What we're hearing so far is bothering me as I'm seeing a pattern that makes me think Microsoft is trying to make desktop users happy at the expense of tablet owners. It's as if the Windows team is concerned with the perceived unhappiness of desktop users and is willing to pull back from the mobile aspects of the OS.

The rumored changes that bother me are not significant individually, but lumped together they represent a shift away from the direction I think Microsoft needs to take with Windows. Changes indicated in the leaks that concern me include the ability to pin any Metro app to the desktop taskbar, the ability to run Metro apps in a window on the desktop, and the return of a full start menu.

A big criticism about Windows 8 from the beginning has been the dual operating environments. There's the desktop side which is reminiscent of Windows 7, and the new Metro side with its colorful live tiles and new apps. The common complaint has centered around how Windows 8 throws the user back and forth between the two environments, confusing new users and making the OS harder to use by touch on tablets.

The obvious way forward, at least to me, to deal with this schizo UX is to get rid of the desktop and concentrate on the Metro UX. That's the wave of the future and the best way forward in this writer's opinion.

That's why these rumors about Windows 8.1 Update 1 and Windows 9 concern me so much. If they pan out they indicate clearly that not only is Microsoft not going to minimize the impact of the desktop in Windows 8, it is going the other way. The new features mentioned will move Metro apps to the desktop, an environment that doesn't work with touch very well.

This might be an attempt to bring Metro to desktop users, but that's a mistake if so. They've already got Metro, so these changes may just add to the confusion rookie Windows tablet owners face.

In my heavy use of Windows tablets, and through teaching it to newbies, I've come to realize that it's important for novices to avoid the desktop as much as possible. As previously mentioned, it's not touch-friendly and it's confusing to bounce back and forth between it and the Metro side of things.

The Metro stuff works very well with touch, and I find newbies learn Windows 8 faster by using it, and it alone. When the legacy desktop is thrown into the mix things get confusing quickly for new users.

That's why I find it disturbing that Microsoft would blur the line between the two sides of Windows 8 with future updates. These new features may be welcomed by desktop users, who may be the intended audience, but at the risk of creating problems for tablet users. The latter audience is surely Microsoft's largest target market, based on all the hybrids and tablets we see appearing regularly.

I understand how Microsoft may want to keep from alienating desktop (especially non-touch systems) users, and that bringing the Metro stuff to the desktop may do that. But, I believe it will create further confusion for tablet owners by allowing Metro apps to run on the desktop side. That this might happen is a concrete example of how difficult it will be on an ongoing basis for Windows 8 to try and address both the mobile and desktop crowds.

It's worth mentioning that these are just rumors, and that means they might not be accurate. They are coming from those with good inside track records, so who knows. 

There is no doubt many Windows users will welcome these features/changes should they happen, and that's fine. I think it's the wrong direction Microsoft needs to take with Windows 8.1 Update 1 and Windows 9. It's time to bury the desktop, not to raise it.

See related: 

Topics: Mobility, Tablets, Windows 8

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  • Jack of all trades, master of none?

    Well… if you try to please everyone (those wanting more of a desktop UX and others wanting more of a tablet UX), it is certainly recipe for trouble.

    Perhaps a solution is to then keep the RT OS for tablets and the full version for desktop/legacy systems? This is kind of how Apple has approached it.

    If there were a RT tablet with no desktop (I have no use for it) and an active digitizer/pen, I'd snatch it in a second.
    • Yes, but...

      I happen to like the desktop in RT. I use a stylus and the desktop features work great. Word, Excel, Powerpoint are desktop apps. I also use the traditional Explorer to map drives and manage files. So, there must be people out there like me that would be sad to see the desktop leave RT. Most people are cry babies, just remove the desktop tile from the start screen if you don't have use for it. I'll keep it. Choices are great aren't they?
      Sean Foley

        The Author of this article doesn't seem to get it...


        Why is Microsoft enhancing the Desktop? Because:


        Sales of Metro Laptops - desktops - tablets - phones etc. failed everywhere..
        Just read the news about Windows 8.x sales..

        "the view from within Microsoft is that Windows 8 has been at least as bad as Vista in terms of sales and market acceptance while adding that Vista might actually have sold better than Windows 8 when it was at this point in its life cycle."


        But WHY?

        Simply because > > METRO IS UGLY < < ! !

        When consumers look at brand new laptops and phones
        with that Metro UGLY COLOR MONSTROSITY with the one color harsh rectangles
        irritating live updating, no AERO glass etc..
        they will simply buy something else..

        Apple Macs, Google Chromebooks and Androids
        which have more attractive UI 's than Metro:

        "market research company NPD, Chromebooks account for
        21% of all commercial US laptop sales"


        U.S. Mac Sales Grow 28.5% in Holiday Quarter, PC Market Suffers Worst Decline Ever



        What Microsoft should do to enhance sales?

        Microsoft should:

        from ALL Laptops and Desktops
        and bring back AERO glass visual style.
        [Metro Apps may run in windows just like every other
        Windows program]

        Install Metro ONLY ON TABLETS AND PHONES
        but give Metro the AERO glass visual style facelift
        and make it similar and more attractive than iOS

        Who in their right mind will buy an ugly car?

        Those who buy Laptops with ugly Metro UI
        they buy them only because they are forced to.
        [me included]

        • Grown up conversation, anyone?

          So far Apple has kept it simple: there are no touch interface Macs, and no iOS devices with physical keyboards or pointing devices.

          That's not to say the world SHOULD be that way, it's just what Apple has done so far, and perhaps the Windows mess shows us why.

          However, with Windows devices you can buy huge desktop computers with touch screens, and small tablets with physical keyboards... that really blurs the line, software-wise.

          Because the HARDWARE does it, the OPERATING SYSTEM pretty much has to as well. In other words, Windows needs a touch interface and a click interface because the devices are not sorted into clean categories: desktops and laptops vs. tablets and phones.

          That's the reality, and hating half of reality isn't really a very grownup way to approach a problem.

          Perhaps the key is for the OS to detect the presence of a physical keyboard and pointing device, and make a default (and changeable) decision based on that?

          I don't know, and I suspect most of the people who claim to know probably don't.
          • At Least One Person Has Common Sense

            You are first to suggest that should some kind of detection if there is a keyboard & Mouse It should default to the desktop. Makes perfectly good sense to me. Especially now that your going to be able to open apps in desktop mode. I Like the way you think out of the box.
        • Going back to Windows 7

          I just bought an HP Envy Pro Book, and I have it put down now for 2 weeks because I can't find the time to take off Ugly Metro 8 and install Windows 7. This laptop does not have a DVD/CD drive so it is a bit more difficult to roll back. But I will scrap 8 off this weekend if I can.
          • Keep Windows 8 and Use it in Desktop Mode

            Unless you really need windows 7, just stick with 8, or 8.1 and have it boot to Desktop.
            Why you say? Windows 8 performs better than Windows 7 for the same app. Ms made some improvement to the core.
            I use both 8 and 7. On Tablet, Metro is fine. On desktop pc, I just think of it as a glorified Start Menu! I did have some frustration in the beginning while learning the metro way of doing things, but now it is fine.
          • dont listen to lies

            winblows 7 is even bigger bloat than winblows 7 and everything will work slower
          • Install "Classic Shell" on win8

            at the uni where I work we have had to roll out a few windows 8.x machines.. on all of them i have installed the free "classic shell" app which makes it very familiar to any windows XP/win7 users.

            worth a try yes?
          • Stick with Win 7

            Had problems with an app to make 8 act like 7. Don't remember which one. Abandoned 8 and went back to 7.
          • Windows 8 w/Classic Shell = Windows 7 on Steroids

            I do the same thing. Windows 8 w/Classic Shell installed using the Boot to Desktop option.

            Looks just like Windows 7, only much faster. Anyone who's run Windows 8 and done any objective performance testing with it will state that Windows 8 is faster than Windows 7 and much more efficient in how it uses CPU and Memory.

            No, I don't like the Metro UI. On a desktop? Please. Whoever thought of that should be taken out and thoroughly horsewhipped. Apple had the common sense to keep iOS and Maverick's UI's separate --- one would think Microsoft would've taken a lead from Apple who really are experts in User Interfaces.
          • Re: Going back to Windows 7

            It makes me think, who on his right mind buy a laptop with Windows 8 if they dislike it so much? Especially when you can get the same laptop with Windows 7. Something does not make sense here.
      • Well, based on sales

        you are amongst about 1 million of the entire market. So, Windows RT has actually been dismal failure and it's possible, it might go bye bye just like Zune did. No sales means no 3rd party development

        Sorry, but MS really messed up with RT in a lot of other areas. I honestly don't think Microsoft will recover from it any time in the near future.

        Remember, MS is getting a new CEO sometime this year and they STILL don't know who it's going to be and what changes they'll make.
    • i agree

      "Perhaps a solution is to then keep the RT OS for tablets and the full version for desktop/legacy systems? This is kind of how Apple has approached it."

      I agree completely with this. I personally detest the Win8.x desktop.
      If you're not using a tablet, you're working around the UX, not with it.
    • Yes.

      The problem with RT is that because Microsoft tried to match the UI and UX of full Windows 8 it set an expectation with non-tech savy end users that "hey this is Windows" then they focused on what it couldn't do vs the full Windows 8.... Also by bringing out full Windows 8 tablet products Microsoft confused potential buyers even more.... Apple was wise enough not to do that, but Microsoft did what they always do. Trying to innovate and be first they rushed a unified tablet/desktop hybrid OS product to market.

      Windows RT failed, that's unquestionable at this point and if the WIndows 9 rumors are true then we know Windows 8 also failed and will take it's place alongside WIndows Me and Vista as the OS products the company would rather you forget existed.

      Microsoft needs a fresh start.
      Jeremy Deats
      • I agree totally that MS needs to ditch Win-8

        Why oh why can they need copy Linux and completely detach the GUI from the kernel, like KDE and Gnome do, then you could opt which desktop you wanted during install. The default for PCs and adults would be Win-7, and large coloured tiles for the children. That way you could develop the two completely seaprately, and people who want to use apps like Office would not have to re-learn anything, and the tablet crowd could have everything that made touch better for them.
        As I said earlier just look at Linux where users can choose their GUI and a Gnome user never even sees a KDE update etc.
    • MS probably just adding a new Windows 8.x configuration

      It seems to me what MS is trying to do, is allow Windows 8.x to be configured several ways. The current configuration will remain, but a new configuration will be available for those with non-touchscreen systems. It seems likely that it is only in the latter configuration, that you will be able to use Metro apps in windows on the desktop. (Presumably the start screen, and much of the Metro environment will disappear.) Users of non-touch systems will therefore get a configuration of Windows 8.x optimized for old PC form factors, while also being able to access Metro apps. I believe the above should make everyone more happy, while allowing MS and OEMs to continue to primarily drive adoption of Windows 8.x on touch based systems, which is the future.
      P. Douglas
      • In retrospect

        That's what they should have done in the first place.
    • 2 versions, 1 OS

      Its easy. For laptops, and all-in-one's you have the Desktop version of Win 8.x. For tablets, you have Metro.

      I happen to disagree with James and most of the content in his article. I have a laptop and I do NOT want Metro as my main interface. Its stupid to force the user to switch back and forth between Desktop and Metro to run Netflix or other Metro apps. Yes, just run Metro in a window. Makes perfect sense but don't force me to leave the desktop... EVER.

      I installed Classic Shell on my Win 8.1 laptop, which makes the Desktop (not Metro) look just like Win 7 - start menu and all. I have it boot right to Desktop. Yipppeeee! That is the way I want it. But really doesn't make sense for a tablet so go with Metro on the tablet.

      You see, that wasn't so difficult.
      • 2 versions, 1 OS

        I agree with ryork272... I also disagree with James and most of the content in the above article and found Classic Shell to be my answer to Win8's Metro look on my wife & daughter's new notebooks...