On Tuesday Microsoft will preview the next-generation Windows operating system – currently codenamed Windows Threshold, but expected to be called Windows 9 – and it will be a keystone to Microsoft's plans over the coming years.
With that in mind, here are five features that Microsoft must add to Windows 9 if it is to have a chance of not only tempting me back into the ecosystem, but also of dissipating the cloud of negativity that Windows 8 currently finds itself engulfed in.
#1 - Hassle-free Windows updates
Microsoft needs to take a long, hard look at the Windows update process. The system as it currently stands is so antiquated that it would be laughable if not for the pain it inflicts on users.
Here are just some of the changes that need to be made:
- We need more cumulative updates. Installing updates only for more to appear immediately afterwards is tedious and time-consuming, especially when setting up new systems. Fully updating a system should be a one-click process, and users shouldn't be left wondering if all the patches and updates are correctly installed. Fresh Windows 8 installations can take almost a day to fully patch, which is a wholly inappropriate waste of time.
- Windows Update needs to be more reliable. I'm still coming across updates that just don't want to install, and trying to diagnose the problem can be a long task. Easy, one-click access to a separate installer would help, rather than forcing users to dig through countless knowledgebase articles.
- Rebooting should be kept to a minimum, and when needed it should recover my PC back to the state it was before the reboot, opening up the apps and files I was using prior to the reboot.
#2 - Over-the-air Windows recovery
If a Mac system suffers a catastrophic disk failure, then the operating system can be recovered over-the-air without the need to dig out discs, USB keys, or rely on a recovery partition. It's a quick, easy, and painless process.
If Apple can do this, then there's no reason why Microsoft can't. And if Microsoft could add a feature that would enable us to download a diagnostics package containing system scan tools, a virus scanner, and fixes for common problems for flatlined Windows system, then that would be awesome.
Having to rely on third-party tools to fix Windows system is quite frankly crazy. Microsoft should be able to do the job much better.
#3 - Separation of OS, applications, and data
It's 2014, and drives are cheap. It should be easy – and by easy, I mean as close to automatic as possible – to make Windows take notice of the fact a system has multiple drives and use one for Windows and programs, and the other for data.
Taking this a step further, I'd like to see Windows isolate all applications from the operating system in such a way that I can, with a click of the mouse, either blitz all the settings of a specific application to default, or even remove that application from the system, deleting all of its setting with it. This would go a long way to eliminating the bitrot and slowdowns that affect Windows as time goes on.
Windows 8 already has a feature that rolls Windows back to an "out of the box" state, but this is a very blunt instrument. Repairing an operating s system should no longer means nuking everything and starting from scratch.
#4 - Pure desktop experience mode
If I have a desktop or notebook PC that isn't touch-enabled, then I don't want to have to suffer through a user experience compromised by features aimed at tablet users. Just give me the Windows Desktop and the Start Menu and let me get on with what I want to do.
#5 - Transparent backup
If there's one trick that Microsoft should learn from Apple, it is how to make backing up easier. The Time Machine mechanism in OS X is simply awesome, and takes all the strain out of backing up a system, and after the initial setup it is a total "fire and forget" system. It's not 100 percent perfect, but it's light years ahead of anything Microsoft has to offer.
Data is the single most important thing that users have on their systems, and giving users of all backgrounds a quick and easy way to ensure that their precious 1s and 0s is safe is a no-brainer.
A few other things I'd like to see changed
Before I close, here are a few more things I'd like to see changed in Windows 9:
- Get rid of all the pointless Start Screen tiles from a default install. If people want to add weather or a search tile or a tile that displays financial info, tell them how to do it, but don't add to the user's cognitive load by throwing a bunch of ever-changing tiles into the mix by default.
- Bring an end to big-bang releases. We don't need to be subjected to huge user interface and paradigm shifts every couple of years. Such a cavalier attitude creates disruption and makes an unavoidable learning curve associated with a new release unnecessarily steep.
- With iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 Yosemite, Apple has taken great steps to integrate the PC and post-PC ecosystems, allowing users to shift from one to the other in a more seamless way. Microsoft has yet to do much to assimilate the two worlds.
- Tone back the animations. I want an operating system, not a Pixar movie.
- When it comes to touch, gestures need to work better. Right now they're a mess, and different sensitivities on different devices make them even trickier to use.
- Microsoft needs to figure out battery life, especially if Windows RT is dead. Windows 8/8.1 is far too much of a power hog compared to OS X, even on cutting-edge hardware.
- Fix the inconsistent user interface. Bolting on a touch UI to the existing Windows UI has made matters much worse.