Windows 'Threshold': More on Microsoft's plan to win over Windows 7 users

Windows 'Threshold': More on Microsoft's plan to win over Windows 7 users

Summary: One of Microsoft's main goals with 'Threshold,' the next major version of Windows, is to win over Windows 7 hold-outs. Here's the latest on Microsoft's plan, according to my sources.


Windows "Threshold," the next major version of Microsoft's Windows operating system due to hit around the spring of 2015, is coming into focus.


And not too surprisingly, one of the Microsoft Operating Systems Group's main goals in designing and developing the coming operating system (OS) release — which may or may not ultimately be branded as "Windows 9" — is to try to make it more palatable to hold-out Windows 7 users.

In order to do this, Microsoft is working on including in Threshold lots of new features specifically aimed at "desktop" users, meaning those who interact primarily with their Windows computing device from a desktop or laptop PC with mouse/keyboard and optional touch.

With Windows 8.1 Update, Microsoft officials designed Windows around a set of profiles based on the hardware specifications of the devices in use. Certain devices running Windows 8.1 Update include Power and Search buttons on the Metro-style Start screen; others don't. Some of those running Windows 8.1 Update have their machines start up by default in the Desktop/Win32 legacy environment, while others on touch/mobile-first devices start up in the Metro-Style Start Menu by default.

According to my sources, Microsoft will continue in this vein with Windows Threshold. The Threshold OS will look and work differently based on hardware type.

Users running Threshold on a desktop/laptop will get a SKU, or version, that puts the Windows Desktop (for running Win32/legacy apps) front and center. Two-in-one devices, like the Lenovo Yoga or Surface Pro, will support switching between the Metro-Style mode and the Windowed mode, based on whether or not keyboards are connected or disconnected.

The combined Phone/Tablet SKU of Threshold won't have a Desktop environment at all, but still will support apps running side by side, my sources are reconfirming. This "Threshold Mobile" SKU will work on ARM-based Windows Phones (not just Lumias), ARM-based Windows tablets and, I believe, Intel-Atom-based tablets.

One of Microsoft's primary missions with Threshold is to try to undo the usability mistakes made with Windows 8 for those who prefer and/or are stuck with devices that are not touch-first and for which keyboard/mouse use is of central importance.

The Desktop/laptop SKU of Threshold will include, as previously rumored, the Mini-Start menu — a new version of the traditional Microsoft Start menu, an early concept of which Microsoft showed off at the company's Build developers conference in April. It also will include the ability to run Metro-Style/Windows Store apps in windows on the Desktop. Will it turn off completely the Metro-Style Start screen with its live-tile interface, as Neowin is reporting, and make the tiled Start screen a toggleable option from the Mini Start menu? I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised.

(Update: It's worth pointing out the Mini Start menu is expected to be customizable. Users will be able to include Metro-Style apps or remove all Metro Style apps/tiles from the menu so that only Desktop apps are included in the Mini Start menu — either as tiles or in list form.)

Between now and Threshold: What's next?

Before Threshold is released next spring, Microsoft is expected to deliver a public preview of the Threshold release, most likely in the fall of 2014, my sources say.

And before that, Microsoft will deliver a second and final update for Windows 8.1. Since Microsoft officials decided earlier this year to make the Mini Start Menu part of Threshold instead of Update 2, there's not a whole lot of new features of note coming in Update 2. There may be some UI adjustments and tweaks, but nothing hugely noticeable, my sources claim.

Windows 8.1 Update 2 should be code complete any time now and will be locked down about two weeks before August Patch Tuesday, my sources say. (August Patch Tuesday is on August 12.) Microsoft may opt to not make a big deal out of Update 2 and just push it out quietly as part of the set of August patches, I hear.

The Microsoft OS team is hoping to get as many Windows 7 users moved to Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and Windows 8 users to Windows 8.1 Update in preparation for (hopefully) getting them to move to Threshold once it is out. It's still early in the Windows development cycle for Microsoft to have decided on packaging, pricing and distribution, but my sources say, at this point, that Windows Threshold is looking like it could be free to all Windows 8.1 Update, and maybe even Windows 7 Service Pack 1, users.

Microsoft is basically "done" with Windows 8.x. Regardless of how usable or functional  it is or isn't, it has become Microsoft's Vista 2.0 — something from which Microsoft needs to distance itself, perception-wise. At this point, Microsoft is going full-steam-ahead toward Threshold and will do its best to differentiate that OS release from Windows 8. 

Topics: Mobile OS, IT Priorities, Microsoft, Tablets, PCs, Windows, Windows 8


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Free upgrade from Windows 7?

    In your next-to-last paragraph, the last sentence indicates that Windows "Threshold" might be free for "Windows 7 Update 1" users. Do you mean Windows 7 SP1? Or do you mean Windows 8 Update 1?

    It seems odd for sure that they would offer Windows Threshold for free to Win 7 users, especially since there are so many of us that paid to upgrade from 7 to 8 back in 2013.
    • If they paid me, I would still not upgrade.

      Why on earth would I go through all of the usual upgrade nightmares yet again, only to find that the "improvements" are of utterly no value to me. Windows 7 in a virtual machine on my Mac works just fine, and no "improvements" are necessary to me.
      • Funny

        Switched from a Macbook Pro and iPad to a Surface Pro (now Pro 3) with Windows 8.1, and I'll never go back.
        • SP3

          I'm heading in that direction, but right now what is missing is all the great apps in the Windows store compared to iOS. If they can get that eco-system built up and better separate desktop and Metro users interfaces, they will have a winner.
          • Agreed on the app store

            Have to agree on the state of the Windows app store. It's got all the big apps, but outside those, it's pretty bad. I have a $25 credit in my MS account, and I literally can't find any apps worth spending it on. Considering I can run all my desktop programs on my Surface, it's not that big of a deal, but it is an issue that Microsoft needs to address pronto.
          • ?

            What are you talking about? You do realize that the SP3 is compatible with pretty much every desktop application made since the mid-90's, right?
        • Good for you.

          If that's what floats your boat, that's just fine with me. I make no apologies for being a Mac user, and it floats my boat.
          • Good for you.

            Have you really tried a modern Windows PC since your making such a strong statement? You might be very surprised to learn what really floats your boat in a more objective world.
            Woned B. Fooldagan
          • Laughable!

            Wow! Have you actually read the reviews of this cluster-f called windows 8? You obviously know nothing about OSX, or iOS for that matter.
          • Yes

            "Windows 7 in a virtual machine on my Mac works just fine, and no "improvements" are necessary to me."
            Unless you claim that Windows 7 is not a modern Windows, I think he's got enough experience ;)
      • So

        you have to pay a Apple tax to have a machine that does less. If you dont want Windows Use linux. But MacOS is far inferior to Windows.
        • I am anything but fond of Mac OS X ...

          ... but I don't agree. There is no significant difference between Mac OS X, Desktop UNIX/Linux and Windows. They are all first-rate, operating systems built around preemptive multitasking and they are all fully scalable.

          The differences are limited to personal preference.
          M Wagner
        • Really?

          Ah, the Apple tax myth - let's see, significantly higher user satisfaction, less IT support overhead, easier to use, better quality hardware, better hardware software integration, higher resale value, longer lifespan, free OS upgrades, etc, etc, etc. you must be confused with the Wintel tax.
      • Looking beyond the Threshold

        Why? All I see by MS is shafting the consumer with productivity-killing UI glitches -- Modern/Metro -- that I have no interest in upgrading.

        I killed indexing, the "search paradigm", and libraries in Win 7-64 Ultimate; put files in a hierarchial folder structure I preferred; installed Classic Start Menu and Office 2003; and went to work with something that doesn't cause my eyes to bleed everytime I use it.

        The odious tile system may sit on top of a better engine but who &%#$ cares if the UI is so loathsome I want to smash my monitors.

        Granted, Win 7's can't freaking remember the exact layout of the six windows I keep open at all times spread over my two monitors and I spend quite a bit of time adjusting them [which, if you include this period of adjustment, means Win 7 opens about four times slower than XP, counting from power button on the twoer until everything's laid out as I like it: that's the real test of "powerup speed".

        The better part of the last decade of software development has been devoted to destroying productivity.

        Someone should hunt down Steven Sinofsky and Julie Larsen-Green to hang them in effigy for the crimes against end-users they've committed.

        JJ Brannon
        • Looking beyond the Threshold...

          I can't say you are wrong! They (MS) just can't help themselves from denying the users actual wishes. In truth Windows development team could have easily made interface choice programmable from the point of installation and allowed everyone to be happy with all the nice engine improvements. The one thing MS needs to get serious about is providing what their customers want, not some geeky wonks trapped in some secret User Interface lab. 30 years into this Windows thing they have lost sight of what is important to the customer, and care even less. There is still time to save Windows if they get their egos in check and do what the public wants. Logical canonical hierarchical file systems with totally separated file access by user to reinstate privacy. I DON'T want my children accessing my porn, documents, what-have-you. Get back to the architectural model that got you 90% market penetration. Keep improving system performance and adding optional features. Rant over...
          Woned B. Fooldagan
          • Denied Clear Fonts

            A prime example of MS "denying users actual wishes" is the simple and fundamental necessity to have clear text on your screen.

            With Windows 8 came the most appalling, blurry, head-ache inducing, grayscale font rendering API that is used by IE and Office 2013.

            Some of us have tried to get Microsoft to at least give us the option of clearer font rendering for IE and Office 2013 but we have encountered a stone wall of belligerence and denial.

            For me, the blurry text makes Office 2013 unusable. I had to downgrade back to Office 2010 just so I could get some work done.

            One of my clients is seriously considering moving to Linux, so I am busy brushing up on that and yes I get perfectly clear text in all Linux distro UIs and apps I have tried.
          • Well, if you use IE or Office...

   deserve what you get.

            (Note, i am a Windows user, not a Mac user, but i despise those MS monstrosities.)
          • Clear fonts in Office 2013

            ITenquirer, as one of the beta testers for MS Office 2013 I take exception to that. YOU have to understand Microsoft can ONLY supply the most used/popular fonts. Can you imagine how many discs
            it would take to give every known/like font package that is available? BUT upon saying that, you can download from the MS Office Store every conceivable font ever created, including Clear Text Fonts. BUT I would be more than happy to report this to MS Office team to include more fonts, BUT you and everyone will pay for whatever additional fonts that gets included. Microsoft has included the WORLD’S easiest way to add more fonts, just go into MS Office’s control panel and click on fonts, and add as many font sets/package as you want to make your heart happy.
            Mike Lonewolf
        • Wow...

          So in other words, you want custom OS/UI based on your specific preferences and requirements. And of course, you don't want to have to pay anything extra.

          Without discounting every issue you've raised, a lot of this is purely personal aesthetic and workflow preference - preferences which you've obviously developed over time based on past Windows functionality. However, you're essentially dictating to MS that, because you have become a creature of habit and don't want to change, they can't make changes to _their_ product based on changing market conditions, demographics, technologies, etc.

          To beat the cliche, you want a faster horse. Imagine if that line of thinking prevailed generally. Cars would have reins, you'd have to kick them to get them to move, and they'd be afraid of snakes.

          You've obviously exercised your right to continue 'riding the horse' you're accustomed to, but to pretend you have a right to demand a custom-fitted horse is hubris of the highest order.

          The market will ultimately prevail. If enough customers rebel, MS will be obligated to change (already happening) or suffer the consequences. We can see this already happening with Win8.1, Update 1, Update 2 and now, Threshhold.

          Lastly, there's no need to hunt anyone down in order to hang an effigy. An effigy is a representation of the actual person, not the actual person. If you actually want to hang Steve and Julie, the term you're looking for is pre-meditated murder.
        • Speak It!

          I had wanted to comment, but you've pretty much said it all.

          "The odious tile system may sit on top of a better engine but who &%#$ cares if the UI is so loathsome I want to smash my monitors."

          Amen to that!