What to expect with Windows 9

Microsoft Windows - new 2

With Build 9834 leaks and confirmations springing up all over, here’s what to expect from Microsoft on Sept. 30

As widely anticipated, Microsoft has sent out invitations to the journalistic A-list to "hear about what's next for Windows and the Enterprise" on Sept. 30, in San Francisco. Tom Warren at The Verge says (and Paul Thurrott confirms on his WinSupersite) that Windows honcho Terry Myerson and his superstar sidekick Joe Belfiore will lead what Warren calls "a discussion" -- which seems like a weird way to describe a product rollout that will ultimately affect a billion and a half Windows users.

That's what we know for sure. Everything else is conjecture, but it's backed by a string of revelations based on build 9834 of the Windows Technical Preview, which appears to have fallen into the hands of the folks at the German-language site WinFuture.de. WinFuture is dribbling out screenshots and videos, turning a buck by pasting Netflix, Hornbach, and Peugeot ads on the front of their leaked videos. Somebody in Redmond must be fuming.

Here's a recap of what's been revealed, starting with the features I described last week:

  • The build they've uncovered (9834.fbl_partner_eeap.140908.0936) is dated Sept. 8. Screenshots were apparently taken between Sept. 11 and 15. If Microsoft distributes the Technology Preview bits at the event on Sept. 30, this is a likely candidate.
  • There are no displayed Windows version numbers, aside from the internal version 6.4, adding fuel to the argument that the next version of Windows will be called simply "Windows." Windows Phone is already in the process of becoming Windows.
  • The desktop's Start Menu returns, with Windows 7-like cascading menus on the left and Metro tiles on the right. Menus and tiles can be dragged, dropped, pinned, unpinned, resized, and sliced and diced. We haven't seen any fully functional "interactive" tiles as yet -- Metro apps that respond to interaction with their tiles without popping up on the screen -- but I expect that will be coming soon.
  • Metro apps running in resizable windows on the desktop. There appears to be some debate about whether the Charms bar will get the axe in the process, but all of the Charms you're likely to want will be in the right-click menu in the upper-left corner of the title bar.
  • Virtual desktops, which will undoubtedly get some sort of whiz-bang marketing name, because "virtual" is supposedly too spooky for consumers. Windows has had virtual desktops since Windows XP, but you had to install a third-party app (or something like Sysinternals Desktop, from Microsoft) to get them to work.
  • A Notification Center, which displays and lets you get at both bubble and toast notifications. It's long overdue.
  • Storage Sense and Wi-Fi Sense, two Windows Phone (er, Windows on the phone, or something like that) features will likely make their way into the Technical Preview.

That leaves a whole crop of interesting open questions, including:

  • Will Internet Explorer 12 make it into the Technology Preview? It will definitely ship with the next version of Windows, barring any monstrous complications. If IE12 isn't in the Technology Preview, how can enterprise online app developers and general Web developers test the next version of Windows?
  • Where's Cortana? WinFuture has published screenshots that show vestiges of Cortana in build 9834 -- they seem to indicate Cortana will be just another app -- but how will Cortana integrate into the next version of Windows?
  • How/when will the Start Menu supplant the Metro Start Screen? A WinFuture video shows options for switching from Start Menu to Start Screen and back, but apparently switching requires a reboot of Windows Explorer. No idea if there will be similar options for mouseless systems.

If the Windows 7 and Windows 8 beta experiences are any guide, you can bet that this Windows Technology Preview won't look much like the final, shipping next version of Windows. This Preview will show off the plumbing and the broad strokes of Windows' future. For fine details -- including just about every detail of the user interface -- we'll have to wait and see what Microsoft dreams up next.

Don't tell anybody, but for the first time in years, I'm actually excited about the way Windows is headed.

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