What we know about the next versions of Windows

Rumors are rampant, but here's what's on for sure with Windows 8.1 Updates, Windows 9, Windows 365, Windows Phone, Xbox, and 'Threshold'

With all of the rumors, fakes, and howling inaccuracies floating around, it's time to step back, take a deep breath, and look at what we really know about forthcoming versions of Windows. Along the way, we'll get up to speed on the shenanigans of some famous Windows leakers and add a couple new names to the "Leaky" Hall of Fame.

If you've seen a leaked screenshot of Windows 9 or you know the timetable for "Threshold" or you're convinced that Satya Nadella just killed Windows RT, I'm sorry to be the one to bring this to your attention, but you've been hornswoggled -- bamboozled! No matter what you've read, no matter what you think you've seen, the simple fact is that we know very, very little about the future of Windows.

Permit me to start by going through the list of characters:

Our beloved Russian leaker Wzor (@WZorNet) has fallen silent in recent weeks, likely because he/she/it/they have very little they're willing (or able) to spill. One month ago, Wzor tweeted one observation and two predictions. The observation -- that Windows 8.1 Update 2 had likely hit RTM -- has yet to be confirmed or denied. The two predictions -- that Microsoft would debut Win 8.1 Update 2 at the Worldwide Partners Conference earlier this month and Microsoft would "present" the Windows 9 beta at WPC -- are demonstrably false. There wasn't a breath about Update 2 at WPC, as far as I can tell, and the next-version-of-Windows coverage at WPC went no further than reiterating Terry Myerson's presentation at the Build conferece in April.

Did Wzor miss his guess? Did Microsoft intentionally pull back on the WPC presentations to thumb its noses at Wzor? Or were other forces at work? We'll likely never know. Wzor's website doesn't show anything worthwhile, and Wzor hasn't posted to the Russian-language ru-board in more than a month.

Over on the Chinese side of the leaker's fence, well-known raconteur Faikee (@FaikeeF) has made many observations and pulled together information from diverse locations, but none of what he's posted lately can be considered groundbreaking. He claims to have a friend who can confirm certain aspects of software under development by Microsoft.

There's a new kid in town, PainteR, who posts on and apparently administers at least part of another Russian-language site, PCPortal.org.ru. Long story, but it's likely he has access to a copy of Windows 8.1 Update 2, but he hasn't leaked it and he won't publish confirmation screenshots.

Now, here's where we stand on the various versions of Windows.

There have been multiple, apparently independent reports that Windows 8.1 Update 2 (which may not be the final name) will be distributed as part of the next Black Tuesday patch rollout, on Aug. 12. "Everyone" agrees that Windows 8.1 Update 2 will not include a fancy new Start menu on the desktop and that Update 2 will not include the ability to float Metro programs on the desktop, a la Stardock ModernMix. PainteR claims (with some justification and good-looking screenshots) that Update 2 will include support for the Ruble character. Other than that, nobody seems to have a clue what will be included in Update 2. There have been no leaks about features, and certainly no leaked software.

Think about that for a second: We're three weeks away from August Black Tuesday and nobody outside a very small, leak-proof circle has seen -- much less tested -- Update 2. Perhaps Update 2 has some surprises in store. Perhaps some of the surprises are intentional. Or it's possible that Update 2 is a plumbing-only dud that will excite only drudges.

Last week Faikee tweeted that work has begun on Windows 8.1 Update 3, but there's "no guarantee it could eventually come out." It's possible Update 3 is a fallback patch in case work on the next big version of Windows falls behind.

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