Windows 9: The empire's last hope

Microsoft looks to reboot the franchise with a morphing Start-enabled take on the troubled two-faced Windows 8

Reviving a franchise is a big deal. They've done it with "Star Trek" and "Spider-Man." They're hoping to do it with "Star Wars." But can Microsoft do it with Windows? As Yoda might say, cloudy the future is.

Perhaps you've seen the chatter this week about Windows 9 "coming soon" to a system near you. If Microsoft has learned anything from its "one OS to bind them all" approach, it should know a revival won't likely work in its current form. I'm still a believer in a common underlying OS, but I strongly believe users want different UIs riding on top of that OS depending on the form factor they choose, whether it be desktop, laptop, or tablet. That's exactly what Windows 9 has to be if Microsoft expects to come raging back.

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What to expect from Windows 9 -- and when to expect it

Windows 9 (aka Threshold) will be able to detect the platform on which it is running, note the peripherals connected, and morph into a more traditional desktop flavor or a more touchscreen-focused variation as necessary. Users will be allowed to choose a different UI for their device if they prefer, which is perfect for two-in-one devices (like Surface) where some users have expressed a preference for the new Windows UI, while others prefer the traditional desktop interface. Apparently the modes will change depending on whether a keyboard is attached.

With the traditional desktop mode, the Start menu will return as a Start mini-menu, although based on concepts shown at this year's Build developer conference it doesn't look "mini" at all. If anything, it seems like a fusion of Start screen features and Start menu options. In addition, the idea is to have Windows Store (Metro-style) apps running on the desktop when in desktop mode.

You may be wondering why Microsoft didn't do this with Windows 8. The answer is obvious: bad advice from trusted advisers. It's how kingdoms have fallen throughout history. Windows ME, Vista, Windows 8 -- how many more miscues does Microsoft have left before it falls?

We'll have to wait and see what Windows 9 officially brings and, more important, how it will be received. As to the question of when we should expect it, Microsoft is working on another update to Windows 8. Some might question the wisdom of bothering with an update to Windows 8, but with another school year and holiday season coming up and Windows 8 the only option, Microsoft has to make sure it's ready for new hardware.

Windows 8 Update 2 is expected to arrive in August. That might substantiate the talk that a public preview of Windows 9 will be released by year's end, with a spring or summer 2015 official launch, putting Windows 9 in line with the next school and holiday cycle for 2015.

Windows 8 is a dead OS walking. In less than a year, Microsoft will launch Windows 9 (final name to come) and do all it can to win back the hearts of Windows users before they do something drastic like switch to Mac -- or worse, Linux -- if they haven't already.

If rumors hold true (often they do not), Windows 9 will be free for Windows 8.1 users and possibly Windows 7 SP1 users. Consider this a mea culpa to Windows 7 users for making them wait so long for a functional UI and for Windows 8 users who made the switch. But Microsoft must get this one right. 

What are your thoughts? Are you confident that Microsoft, under Nadella, can win back the Windows faithful? Or have the missteps of Windows Vista and Windows 8 have you doubting a full-fledged comeback for the Windows franchise?

This story, "Windows 9: The empire's last hope," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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