Ever since Windows 8 debuted in October 2012, PC users have been searching for ways to improve Microsoft’s struggling OS. The Redmond, Wash.-based company sent out its first wave of major Windows 8 updates through Windows 8.1, which brought some minor enhancements when it premiered a year after Windows 8. But while the OS looks and feels nothing like its previous iterations, the next major overhaul could bring Windows back to its design roots. Microsoft may still be months away from announcing what could be Windows 9, but here’s a look at what we think we know so far.
Windows 8 users have been clamoring for the return of the classic Start menu since the software’s inception, and Microsoft is finally ready to deliver. The company confirmed that the latest version of Windows will be getting a fully functional Start menu in Desktop mode at this year’s Build conference.
The new Start menu serves as a hybrid of old and new, with a Windows 7-style list of apps on the left and the colorful, dynamic live tiles from Windows 8 on the right. If you don’t feel like waiting for Windows 9, there are several third-party apps that mirror the Start menu quite accurately, including Stardock Start 8 ($5) and Classic Shell.
Windows 9 is expected to borrow a few features from Windows Phone 8.1, starting with the Cortana voice assistant. Spotted on previous builds of Windows Threshold, the desktop version of Cortana will support both spoken and typed requests for things like weather and sports scores.
According to PCWorld, two more Windows Phone 8.1 features could come to Windows 9 in the form of Wi-Fi Sense and Storage Sense. Wi-Fi sense automatically connects users to public Wi-Fi hotspots, which could come in handy when using a Windows 9 laptop at a coffee shop or library. Storage Sense organizes your apps by size, giving you a clearer idea of what’s eating up your hard drive space.
The Windows 8 swipe-in Charms menu is a convenient way to pull up settings or search your PC if you’ve got a touchscreen, but using it can be a pain with a touch-less display. Fortunately, Windows 9 is likely to ax the Charms menu completely for desktop users. We’re not sure where the Charms functions (Search, Share, Devices and Settings) will move to, but Winbeta notes that those same features may become accessible from each individual app window, near the minimize icon.
The most prominent rumor surrounding the next version of Windows is its codename: Threshold. But the title is more than just an internal reference point– it’s a callback to one of Microsoft’s biggest franchises. Microsoft borrows this name from the planet around which the first halo ring orbited in the original “Halo” game, as Windows guru Mary Jo Foley reports. The Threshold update will reportedly include updates to three major platforms: the Xbox One, Windows and Windows Phone. Thus, the codename refers to the “wave” of operating systems we’ll see across Windows-based phones, laptops, tablets and Xbox gaming consoles. Part of this unification includes a singular app store that will house applications for all of its operating systems, according to Foley.
In the next version of Windows, you may be able to run Metro apps in floating windows on the desktop. You can already do this today with third-party tools such as Modern Mix, but this functionality could be built into the OS soon enough. As is the case with the Windows Start Menu, Thurrott says this feature may also be optional.
In addition to possibly being able to run Metro apps on your desktop, the next version of Windows may bring some favorable changes to the tiled UI. Thurrott reports that “maturing and fixing” this interface will be a “major focus of Threshold,” although there’s no telling exactly what changes are coming.
Though Microsoft is pushing for a more unified Windows experience, Windows 9 could have a distinct feel based on your device. ZDNet reports that the software will emphasise Desktop mode on traditional desktops and laptops, while hybrids like the Surface Pro 3 will automatically switch between Desktop and Metro UI modes based on whether or not there’s a connected keyboard. For those using tablets or smartphones, Windows 9 will reportedly use the touch-based Metro UI exclusively.
Based on reports, Windows 9 could hit PC as soon as this fall. Microsoft is having an official Windows event in San Francisco on Sept. 30, when they plan to reveal “What’s next for Windows and the enterprise.” Invites for the event don’t specify Windows 9, but based on the rumors we’ve heard so far, the software’s official reveal seems all but guaranteed.