Beyond Windows 8.1

With Windows 8.1 now generally available, focus shifts to fixing the mess Steve Sinofsky left behind

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I think it's a great development, not only because it'll bring some sanity to the Windows RT architecture, but also because enterprises and consumers both have a very good holding pattern -- a place to wait while Microsoft gets its act together. That place, of course, is Windows 7.

While Microsoft builds a better Windows desktop, we'll be treated to some touch-friendly hardware based on the new Windows RT -- which is to say, the superstructure built on top of Windows Phone. Some of it might even be compelling or at least competitive.

Foley goes on to predict that the next non-Band-Aid version of Windows -- let's call it Windows 9 -- will appear in the spring of 2015. While I don't doubt that's the current target, it seems much more likely that Windows 9, with both a better desktop and integrated support for Windows Phone apps, will appear later in the year -- and may even take one more year.

It wouldn't surprise me a bit if Windows 9 showed up about October 2015 -- which just happens to be three years after the Windows 8 disaster hit. That would put Microsoft back on a three-year Windows release cycle, which most enterprises (and many consumers) would welcome with open arms. There's even a tiny chance that Microsoft will revert to its (largely apocryphal) every-other-version's-a-winner rhythm.

Right now, my sources in the trenches tell me there's confusion in the dev ranks. While the general direction is well articulated -- build from the phone up -- the details are hard to sketch out. Surprisingly, I haven't heard of any mass defections. That's good news because, when the time comes, Microsoft's going to need all the old desktop hands it can find.

Myerson has one enormously important task ahead, which I haven't seen discussed lately. He has to straighten out the mess that is Windows branding. I'm not talking about the Surface vs. Surface RT vs. Surface 2 vs. Surface Pro vs. Surface Pro 2 branding stupidity, I'm talking about the whole enchilada: From Windows-that-doesn't-run-Windows-programs, to SkyDrive, to all of the Office-like things that don't resemble each other, to Live that isn't, and beyond -- somebody has to come up with a coherent, easily understood branding strategy, sooner rather than later.

Without decent, strong branding, all of Microsoft's post-apocalyp... er, post-Windows 8 efforts won't mean squat.

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