In the past week, we received some official news and some unofficial about the next version of Windows -- aka Windows 9, Windows "Threshold," and vNext. Both give new hope that the dark period of Windows 8 may soon be ending.
Starting with the official news, Microsoft sent out an invitation for a Sept. 30 event with the theme “What’s next for Windows” that is apparently more enterprise-focused than consumer-focused. We'll know on Sept. 30 what's in store there.
As for the unofficial news, leaked screenshots of Windows 9 technical preview have hit the Web. (Nothing is sacred anymore. Just ask Apple, whose execs playfully rolled with the leaked iPhone 6 info at its launch last week). For a rundown of Windows 9 features both (confirmed and speculated) check out Woody Leonhard’s “What to expect with Windows 9” report.
Three reported features have me particularly hopeful.
One is the new mini-Start menu for the desktop rendition, which appears like a combination of Windows 7's cascading Start menu and Windows Phone's Metro-tile menu buttons. I like it, and it’s obviously customizable so that between my pinned apps on the taskbar and this mini-Start menu I should be able to have everything I need in one or two clicks -- without the jarring, nauseous movements I now go through with Windows 8's Start Screen.
The second is virtual desktops. No, virtual desktops aren't new in operating systems. Other systems (cough, OS X) have it, and even Windows can have it with a free add-on such as Sysinternals Desktops v2.0 or DexPot’s virtual desktop. But it will sure be nice to have this built right in.
The third item that gives me more hope is the unified Notification Center. It appears similar to a new feature in Windows Phone 8.1 called Action Center. (Oddly, the Action Center already in Windows has nothing to do with notifications.) The new Notifications Center feature mixes classic Desktop and Metro app notifications, and is accessed through the system tray. As they come in, the notifications display in the top-right corner, but they fade away after a few seconds, so you may miss them. The Notifications Center -- admittedly following on the footsteps of Android, OS X, and iOS -- provides a single place to look for multiple notifications from multiple applications.
If you're thinking "That’s it?!" keep in mind there are other features (both imagined and confirmed) in Windows 9. More important, nobody has complained that Windows, at the core, needs an overhaul. It doesn’t! Under the hood, the OS is solid, a better version of Windows 7. People need to remember that.
The issue with Windows 8 has been purely one of UI hatred, and I’ve been leading the charge for change in its interface. The fact that Windows "Threshold" will return the Start menu with a unique twist, plus provide additional features like virtual desktops and the Notification Center, should be enough to get people to forget Windows 8 ever existed and move on -- as they did with Vista.
That's cause for optimism.