Get ready for Windows 9

The iPhone 6 may not hog the spotlight for long. Windows is still the workhorse of the business world -- and Windows 9 is coming sooner than you think

The world still depends on Windows. But it's striking how infrequently Windows enters the conversation these days, even though it still has a 92-percent share of desktops and laptops, according to the latest stats from Net Applications.

Instead, all eyes are fixed on Sept. 9, the day when everyone knows Apple will unveil the iPhone 6. Details drop like little baubles: It will have a sapphire screen! You can buy a case now!

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If you ask me, much bigger news looms: Threshold, aka Windows 9, will be previewed in late September or early October, according to reliable Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley.

We still have scant indication of exactly what Windows 9 will be like, although we do have some decent rumors -- the latest being that the annoying Windows 8 Charms Bar will disappear, virtual desktops will be introduced, and the Cortana voice assistant may come along for the ride. Significant changes to the maddeningly awkward Windows 8 UI seem like a slam dunk, including a reborn Start menu and the ability to banish those awful tiles from the desktop -- although I doubt Microsoft will go as far as InfoWorld's Windows Red proposal.

Given the vast Windows base, it's difficult to overestimate the importance of what will be revealed in the coming months. Yes, Windows 7 is a lovely product, with over 50 percent of the desktop OS market, and in the Microsoft world upgrades proceed at a rather slow pace (XP's share still stands at nearly 25 percent). But the dominant desktop OS can't stay dominant without an immediate future.

I say this despite the fact that we know the heart of computing has already moved to the cloud. Sure, you may have a tablet and a smartphone, and a big chunk of your worklife may be on Dropbox or Evernote or Google Drive or your mail server or wherever, but you still need a hunk of hardware with a keyboard to do serious work -- and it needs to run some sort of OS. It ain't going to be desktop Linux, and the Mac still has a single-digit market share. The Windows ecosystem remains deeply entrenched.

It's painful to see Microsoft's new CEO Satya Nadella, to whom Woody Leonhard gave an "A" for strategic vision in his six-month report card, pitch a failed desktop OS and smartphone, even as Nadella soars in concept and execution with the cloud. Woody also gave Nadella an "F" for "Windows transparency," which may be a bit harsh -- failures or not, Windows 8 products still clog the channel. So until Microsoft reveals Windows 9, what alternative does Nadella have?

Meanwhile, the news about Windows 8 keeps getting worse. Last week, for example, Computerworld's Gregg Keizer noted that Windows 8's 12.5-percent slice of the OS pie is actually a tad smaller than Vista's share at the same point in its lifecycle. Here's a more personal data point: Recently, I returned a Chromebook I'd bought for a family member at Best Buy (don't ask). Without looking at the box the customer service clerk asked brightly, "Let me guess, Windows 8?"

Sure, the run-up to Sept. 9 is going to be fun. But we already know what's coming in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite -- and about the integration between the two. There may still be Apple surprises, of course, yet I can't imagine they'll have much impact on business computing.

The Windows 9 preview will be a different sort of drama, on which the immediate fate of a new CEO and the vast majority of work machines will hinge. That's a show I don't want to miss.

This article, "Get ready for Windows 9," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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