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

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.
Written by James Kendrick on

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.

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