Cause for hope: Windows 8 gets the heave-ho in the next wave of updates

Windows might actually become relevant again if rumors about the next version(s) of Windows are to be believed

If independent leaks are to be believed, Windows chief Terry Myerson appears to be dismantling the Jekyll-and-Hyde monstrosity that is Windows 8, instead replacing it with a triumvirate of products that people and companies will actually want. Although the leaks don't quite line up one to one, they're close enough to warrant a great deal of optimism about the future of Windows.

Last week ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, quoting unnamed sources, introduced the waiting Windows world to code name "Threshold," a wave of updates that will encompass what we now know as Windows, Windows RT, Windows Phone, and Xbox. In a bit of old-fashioned Microsoft arm-waving, Threshold is supposed to help support the same set of "high-value activities" across all the platforms, where "high-value activities" include "expression/documents," "decision making/task completion," and "IT management." Forgive me for being more than a little bit skeptical about the bafflegab. I'd be ecstatic if Microsoft just got the low-value activities right.

The article laid out a timeline that makes a great deal of sense. The next version of Windows as we know it -- Foley calls it Windows 8.1 Update 1, which sounds like another branding disaster in the making -- should arrive in conjunction with Windows Phone "Blue" (still known internally as Windows Phone 8.1), in the second quarter of 2014.

Reading between the lines, the new Windows 8.1.1 (or whatever) will not include the Threshold putsch. Presumably, the new Windows RT 8.1.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 will start to bridge the gap between Windows RT's WinRT foundation and the WinRT in Windows Phone. That fits in nicely with the prediction back in October that Windows RT 8.1.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 will have a much higher "API unity" in new versions due in six months -- or second quarter 2014.

If those guesses stay on track, it means that by Q2 2014, the new Windows RT and Metro side of Windows 8 will actually be able to share some apps with the new Windows Phone -- a scenario strongly predicted by the anticipated combining of the Windows Store and the Windows Phone Store.

Threshold goes beyond the Q2 2014 timeframe, and the gradual merging of WinRT in Windows 8.x and WinRT in Windows Phone 8.x (a sorry state that never should've occurred, but don't get me started about Steven Sinofsky's ego -- or deadlines).

Yesterday Foley dropped another shoe, giving more details about Threshold -- again, with attribution to unnamed sources. She talks about a single Windows core (which has been the holy grail of Windows development at least since Windows CE), with "a few" Windows versions built on top of that core. Specifically, Foley says her sources tell her that Microsoft is working on three primary versions. That's where my optimism comes jumping out of Santa's bag once again. Here's what they look like:

A "modern" Metro consumer version. This version of Windows, dedicated to the WinRT API, would undoubtedly be designed to run on ARM and Intel-based devices -- phones, tablets, phablets, and some PCs. It would be locked into the Windows Store. (I think of it as analogous to iOS, extended to run on some PCs, or Android with Chromebook kind of tacked on the high end.) I hope upon hope that Microsoft doesn't call this version "Windows RT."

Foley clouds the Metro version crystal ball by saying it "wouldn't be optimized to run Win32 apps." She quotes one contact as saying, "There's the possibility that on some PC-like form factors, there may be a 'desktop' that is more easily navigable for keyboard/mouse users." I readily confess that I can't envision what such a detour would look like, or work like, or who would want to pay for it. In fact, it sounds a lot like the unholy abomination that we now know as Windows RT. But I digress.

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