Windows 9: Microsoft faces four daunting challenges

Windows 9: Microsoft faces four daunting challenges

Summary: The rumor mill says a public preview of the next big Windows release will appear this fall. But don't get fixated by features. This release isn't a "big bang" but is actually just the starting gun for the next stage in a very long race.


According to the rumor mill, Microsoft will unveil the next big release of Windows, code-named “Threshold,” at the end of September, with a preview version available to the public shortly after.

We already know a little about what will be in what will probably end up being called Windows 9. Microsoft has officially announced the return of the Start menu, with a new, modern design, as well as the ability of mobile (Metro-style) apps to run in windows on the Windows desktop. More recent rumors suggest that virtual desktops will be added and Windows 8’s signature charms menu will vanish. Cortana might even make an appearance.

Enterprise customers, who pay dearly for Windows licenses, want as little change as possible. 

I’ve read a lot of discussion about whether this is Microsoft’s last “big bang” Windows release. As far as I’m concerned, that question was answered nearly two years ago. That honor belongs to Windows 8, which was perhaps the biggest big-bang release ever, introducing a completely new app model and blowing up a lot of the user interface conventions that Windows users had previously taken for granted.

In a world of big-bang releases, the Windows 8 feature set would have been frozen when it shipped. The many new features that have been added to Windows 8 in a series of updates over the past 18 months would have been saved for “Threshold,” which in turn would have been frozen when it ships next year.

A better metaphor for this release might be the crack of a starter’s pistol, marking the beginning of a new stage in a very long race. What gets delivered this fall as a preview will be updated in a few months as a final release, which will then be revised and expanded again and again over the next few years as Microsoft’s new, faster update cadence continues.

While it’s interesting to look at specific features that will be in this next release, that’s ultimately a myopic perspective. It’s more important to look at how that release will evolve (and, one hopes, improve) over the next two or three years.

So, rather than focus on features, I’ve decided to zero in on the big problem areas that those new and changed features should be designed to resolve. In a somewhat chaotic and ever-changing world dominated by mobile devices and online services, this is what I’m hoping we’ll see as Windows 9 evolves.

Sharpen the line between business and consumer Windows.

Remember back in 2001, when Microsoft unified the business and consumer versions of Windows in Windows XP?

That was a good idea at the time. In that pre-tablet, pre-smartphone era, there was effectively no difference between the hardware in a business PC and a consumer PC.

Today there are profound differences between business and consumer devices, and the tension between those two markets explains much of the turmoil that began with the release of Windows 8 nearly two years ago.

You can’t ignore the business market, but you can’t expect much innovation in this legacy business either. Many businesses are buying desktop PCs to serve as single-purpose devices (in call centers or on factory floors, for example). Most conventional business laptops are running Office and a browser and little else. When was the last time you saw a brand-new desktop program or a new class of peripherals for conventional PCs? All the innovation is happening on mobile devices, with software delivered as apps and web services.

And there’s the problem: Enterprise customers, who pay dearly for Windows licenses, want as little change as possible. Consumers, for whom Windows is an increasingly smaller part of the cost of a mobile device, want the newest features and apps without the headaches of managing a PC’s complexity.

I suspect that sometime in the next few years Microsoft is going to have to let these two branches of the Windows line drift apart again. That might be the only way to keep conservative IT pros happy while not slowing down the pace of innovation on consumer-focused mobile devices that happen to run Windows.

Improve the desktop experience.

More than a year before the final release of Windows 8, then-Windows boss Steven Sinofsky noted that “for the foreseeable future, the desktop is going to continue to play a key role in many people’s lives.” And so, he promised, “we are going to improve it.”

Nearly two years later, despite the addition of some desktop-friendly features, there’s still more room to improve.

A new Start menu and apps that run in a window on the desktop will be part of Windows 9.

That doesn’t mean a large investment in new features or utilities for the desktop. Nor does it require ripping out the genuine improvements that debuted in Windows 8 and slapping a Windows 7 interface pack on a Windows 8.1 kernel. Instead, it means more refinements in management tools and continued usability improvements in the transitions between classic desktop elements and the new modern pieces of the user experience.

The goal? To dramatically increase the percentage of the Windows installed base that are willing to hop on the current version and stay current. To make that happen, Microsoft has to remove objections from PC users who might otherwise decide to stay with the earlier Windows 7 even as it approaches its end-of-support date in five years.

And then there are two very big challenges: the headaches of Internet Explorer and Google's insistence on playing hardball, which I discuss on the next page.

Topics: Microsoft, Google, Windows

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  • Play nice

    As always, I ask that commenters stay on topic and avoid personal attacks.

    Ed Bott
    • Heh...

      Good luck with that, Ed... At any rate, Windows 9 will be like Windows 7... It's predecessor, but fixed. I have no problems with Windows... Especially since W7 came out. To those paranoid about the NSA? Guess what? They will get your data regardless of the OS you use...
      Cory Ducey
      • nsa

        nsa will get your data if they want to no matter what o's you use. they will not peer your data even if you beg them if they are not interested in you.
        • NSA. Life in the USA

          What are we gonna do about the NSA? They're going to use any method they can to get the information they want. They're worse now than when J. Edgar Hoover was running the show.

          Google is giving Microsoft a taste of it's own medicine....and don't ya just love it.

          Most won't remember the chocolate bars Word Perfect handed out to express their displeasure with the way Microsoft cuffed their hands by limiting the amount of memory for tool bars in the Microsoft's Windows operating system. The chocolate bars didn't have any sweetener.

          Novell figured out a way to manage Microsoft file servers by simply changing one file on NT servers. Microsoft threatened Novell saying they'd change NT's code if Novell continued selling this, so Novell stopped.

          Novell and Word Perfect and other companies eventually had their day in court and won, and it's a long drawn out complicated story, but long story short, our government dismissed the case. Is anyone surprised?

          Microsoft is a criminal organization and they shouldn't even be allowed to operate. It's wonderful watching Google and Apple and Open Source and everyone else kicking them to the curb. Our justice system at work.
          • Wow

          • You are simply so much yesterday that it hurts

            Yes, Microsoft did wrong in the past. But all they ever did is dwarfed by the ways Apple and Google are missusing their position. And I don't care so much about Microsoft's interests getting harmed, I care about all of us getting harmed by Apple and Google because they really are evil though they are much better than Microsoft in disguising their goals and moves, with Apple playing the religious card turning their customers into true believers and even more Google with their "You get it all for free" betraying advertrash business model. While you keep staring backward on Microsoft they are smiling right into your face and take your data hostage. Are you ever gone to learn it's 2014?
          • nope

            Google is not in the same league as Microsoft..
            1. Google release a ton of their stuff to open source.. half of the internet's technology now runs on things that google (Hadoop for example) created for themselves and then let the cat out of the bag for everyone else. Even facebook, which is no friend of Googles owes lots of their tech to Google designs.

            2. Google generally do give everything away.. if you want a free non google phone OS, ASOP is it.. and you get it for free with absolutely no google integration. Plus you can install it on whatever you want. Lets see you do that with either iOS or Windows Phone? The linux kernel has benefited from Google a great deal.. They have some code from Microsoft too, but it's only code they added to make their own products more compatible with Linux rather than to actually improve the kernel.

            Google hasn't tried to crush any other companies.. Their antitrust woes have all related to the fact that people "want" to go to and search for stuff, and competitors think Google should be sending traffic to them instead of capitalising on the popularity they've built up over the years.. lumping that into the same group as MS forcing windows licenses onto people who didn't want them and trashing competitors with dodgy practices is just silly. They are not in the same league at all.

            As for Google not helping Microsoft.. why in gods name would they want to?

            1. Microsoft attacks google every chance they get.. they are behind Scroggled, they are behind most of the antitrust stuff, they've been strongly suspected of paying bloggers for content in the past.
            2. Microsoft only very recently released anything of any significance for other mobile platforms. It's not like they've made all of their services and apps available on Google systems, why does anyone expect Google to help them make their platform more relevant when until very recently Microsoft did everything they could to try and make Google platforms irrelevant?

            Microsoft showed everyone how it thinks competitors should act, I'm a little lost now as to why it thinks that's only relevant when someone other than themselves is the competitor in question.
            3. Microsoft has participated in just about every attempt to attack Google, including sending statements supporting Oracle in their "All of your API's are belong to us" case. They also participated in several patent pool purchases the sole purposes of which are to attack Android. What did Google do? why they purchased VP8 video codec and gave it away to everyone free and clear. And when Microsoft's MPLA Cronies threatened to sue them for it. They bought everyone a licenses to it just in case and still gave it away for free.. cost them millions and millions to do that.. but apparently not worth any cred for you lot.

            Could go on and on.. but the long and short of it, is that Microsoft tries to hurt Google every chance it gets, and then cries that Google are not helping them create apps for Google services, or that it blocked the Microsoft attempt that stripped ads from youtube and broke the licensing arrangements they made with content providers that would have gotten them sued had they not stopped it. It isn't like Microsoft has no recourse.. every single one of those services has a perfectly good web interface. on a side note, I'm on android and I now use Facebook only via the web app because the official app from Facebook (together with the messanger app you now need) wants all the permissions that the old facebook home app (that nobody wanted) asked for. The web app is perfectly workable.. Google might have something to answer for if all of those services were actually blocked from MS drivices, but that isn't the case.. all of them have web based versions.

          • Have any facts and sources to back this?

            Microsoft has always tried to make their software available to non-windows users. There is a whole slew of apps on Android and IOS.

            Although open source code can be advantageous in moving technology forward, there is sometimes a need to protect intellectual property. Google basically copied code and features from Apple and MS, then offered it for "free" so it could earn advertising revenue. How would you like it if you had a product for sale and then all of the sudden another company started offering a clone of your product for free, however was making money by advertising to the customers it took away from you??

            FYI not all Google software is open source and hardly any Apple software is.
          • are you kidding?????

            you obviuosly don;t know enough of the history of Microsoft
          • "Microsoft has always tried..."

            Any explanation for the fact that most MS products are available only for Windows and the rest are available only for Windows and Mac?

            Is MS secretly contributing to the WINE project?
            John L. Ries
          • Paranoid Much?

            You lost your argument when you wrote that Apple and Google "really are evil." Such pejorative exaggeration undermines your credibility.

            As for Apple being worse than Microsoft ever was, Apple has never dominated the computer operating system or software market the way Microsoft has and still does. If you don't use an Apple device there is no way they impact you at all, for evil or for good.

            Apple does dominate the tablet market - a market they created single-handedly. Microsoft bungled their entry into that field by trying to do everything and doing nothing well. Their failures have nothing to do with Apple and everything to do with their own flawed vision.

            Google, on the other hand, is only using Microsoft's own anticompetitive tactics against them. Sauce for the goose, as they say. At the same time, Google makes their apps available on Apple products because the iPhone and the iPad have significant market share and supporting Apple customers rebounds to Google's benefit - even though the corporate relationship between Google and Apple is frosty. You can even use Google apps on the Mac.

            Meanwhile, Microsoft bungled their mobile strategy so badly that by the time a decent Windows phone came to market Microsoft was so far behind Apple and Google in third-party app development that they may never catch up. The slow adoption rate of Windows phone hardware no doubt discourages many developers from even trying to make apps for Windows phones.

            I suspect that if Microsoft really wanted Google apps to work on their platforms, they could make nice - and perhaps pay some licensing fees to Google. If there were any money in it, Google might well reconsider their Microsoft lockout. That could work better than legal action - and would probably be less expensive in the long run. Certainly it would resolve outstanding issues more quickly.

            Of course Google competes directly with Microsoft in a number of areas, including search, web browsers, and computer, tablet and smartphone operating systems. So it may be that no amount of wooing will turn Google's head in Microsoft's favor. If that's the case, there may be no alternative to taking Google to court. Then they could both waste money and make some lucky lawyers rich.
          • Elegant explanation.

            If you are a Linux user, Google is your best friend.

            Even if you use Microsoft, Google Chrom DNS and GMail provide added security.
      • Agreed

        Absolutely! The NSA worked alongside Apple as well so if people think jumping ship to Apple is a better idea, then they are deceiving themselves. It's a pity our government has betrayed us and don't care that they betrayed us. But what can you do right?
        • Raging paranoia is not the answer either..

          "1984"? Wow, what are you selling, using or plotting against that makes you so paranoid? "The government" has been "getting your data" since the early 1900's, if it needs it, if it's worth it, and if it's important for "security". If you are so uneducated as to not know that, and think that the "internet" has caused more rights to get trampled than in the past, you need to take a couple of courses on history and governments, both ours and others. Too many people who are living off their phones and tablets are so "green" that they think life revolves around Facebook and Twitter.. take a deep breath and relax, and quit thinking you can comment and live online in total safety.
      • This is highly likely

        The trick going forward will be to put the interests of users first, instead of trying to dictate to them because management thinks that non-Microsofties owe some sort of allegiance to the company (or that users don't have other choices).
        John L. Ries
    • You Can Forget It, Ed

      I read zdnet's articles to stay informed and learn something. I especially like the ones you and Mary Jo write. Responses from some readers are also very informative. But unless znet bans the name-callers we're still going to have to muddle through all the comments to get down to anything that might be informative. It's a shame people use this board trying to stir up a s**t storm. I guess from now on I'll have to just read the articles and bypass reading any of the user comments. That's the only way around the mess this comment board has become. Thank you for all the information you have passed on to us in this and all the other articles you have written.
      • Please ban the namecallers

        Won't bother me at all.
        John L. Ries
      • Skip the one liners

        Skip the comments which are only a few words long. Those are from people who work from home and paid by an agency that pays them 1 cent for every blog they write. Microsoft utilizes these tactics. They did it on TV with the scroogled campaign.
        Tim Jordan
      • Basic problem here.

        "I read zdnet's articles to stay informed and learn something."

        Ed sells himself as a computer expert, he is not. ZDNet sells itself as a computer publication, it is not.

        They are selling Microsoft products.

        Both of them, selling themselves as computer information is a lie.

        They are about promoting Microsoft, nothing else.

        It's just lousy propaganda.

        If you want neutral computing information, go to or another similar online source.

        It would not be so bad if they were actually truthful about what they do, and labelled themselves accordingly. They do not.
        • Computer news...

          Relevant computer news is the US Navy Nuclear Submarine Fleet using Red Hat Linux for security and stability.

          Relavent computer news is the 8 new Westinghouse AP-1000 power plants, (4 being built in China, 4 in Georgia, USA), using SUSE Enterprise Linux for complex core calculations and to run the plants.

          You don't see articles about that here, and you certainly won't hear Ed talking about it.