Windows 8.1 pirate beta due any time, but it's a yawner

The Windows 8.1 Update 1 leak is imminent, but a worthwhile upgrade is still at least a year out

The search for leaked Windows builds is on, once again, and this time the prize pirate copy has already been overshadowed by reliable reports of what awaits next year. If you're waiting with bated breath for the latest leaked Windows beta, you don't understand the situation.

Russian-language Windows leak site WZOR said on Jan. 8 that the next version of Windows -- dubbed, mellifluously, Windows 8.1 Update 1 and/or GDR 1 and/or Windows 8.1 2014 Update -- will likely leak on Jan. 15, the day Microsoft partners are due to get the bits. That's pretty remarkable 20/20 foresight, but WZOR has demonstrated its prescience repeatedly over the years. WZOR has several screenshots to prove their dominance, but they don't show much besides the build number 6.3.9600.16581.WINBLUES14_GDR_LEAN.13122 2-2030.

Neowin has posted an additional leak screenshot, which appears to come from CentrumWindows.pl (oops?), that shows a whole lotta nothing. Except for the brand in the lower-right corner, it looks just like Windows 8.1.

The WZOR article offers only one interesting tidbit that I didn't pick up last month in my Windows 8 "cause for hope" post: Unlike Windows 8.1, which was released through the Windows Store (if you ever found it), Windows 8.1 Update 1 will arrive via Windows Update. That's a giant step forward -- while, at the same time, being a giant step backward, if you know what I mean -- because many Windows users find it much more intuitive to handle Windows updates through, er, Windows Update.

I have a feeling that one major reason why Microsoft is shifting back to its old distribution model is a question of penetration: Although the upgrade from Windows 8 to 8.1 is free and well worth the effort, only a third of the people running Windows 8 (probably fewer) have upgraded to 8.1. Some of the blame must be laid at the foot of the bizarre two-step Windows Store upgrade process.

Windows 8.1 Update 1, currently scheduled for April 2014, seems like a stopgap that's designed to improve compatibilty with Windows Phone -- which is due for its own update at the same time. I can't think of a less compelling reason to get Windows 8, much less Windows 8.1 U1.

But Windows 9, that's another story. Paul Thurrot said over the weekend that Windows 9 -- code name "Threshhold" -- is currently scheduled for April 2015. He goes on to say that Microsoft will likely announce its Win9 plans at the Build 2014 conference, which will be held just about the time Windows 8.1 Update 1 lands with a thud. Build 2014 will be "very much focused on Windows Phone and Xbox." That's not terribly surprising, considering Microsoft's headcount should shoot up by about 35,000 people (from 100,000 to 135,000, in round figures) when Nokia gets absorbed at just about that time. Thurrot says the Microsoft reorganization will be complete about that time, but I'll reserve judgment until we hear more about the new CEO.

As I've discussed before, it looks like Windows 9 will in fact consist of three very different faces painted on the same pig -- er, core: A "Metro" version that's all about mobile; a "consumer" version, updated frequently, which may just be Windows 8.1 Update 2; and a "pro" version, which is stodgy and stable. It isn't clear, based on Thurrot's description, if we're looking at all three appearing in April 2015, but that seems to be the way Microsoft is heading.

Given Thurrot's history defending Windows 8, it was like a breath of fresh air to read what he now thinks about the abomination, uh, product:

In some ways, the most interesting thing about Threshold is how it recasts Windows 8 as the next Vista. It's an acknowledgment that what came before didn't work, and didn't resonate with customers. And though Microsoft will always be able to claim that Windows 9 wouldn't have been possible without the important foundational work they had done first with Windows 8 -- just as was the case with Windows 7 and Windows Vista -- there's no way to sugarcoat this. Windows 8 has set back Microsoft, and Windows, by years, and possibly for good.

One could successfully argue, I believe, that comparing Windows 8 to Vista does Vista an injustice.

Maybe, just maybe, Microsoft will give us mouse-and-keyboard users a Windows that's better than Win7.

This article, "Windows 8.1 pirate beta due any time, but it's a yawner," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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