Windows 'Blue' rumors fly fast and furious

Microsoft is saying zip about the rumored next version of Windows. Here's what we know -- or think we know -- about Windows 'Blue'

Based on a provocative post on a Chinese-language website, the tech blogosphere has erupted, raining down details about Microsoft's next move in the Windows game. The financial press has picked up on it, too, with learned discourses on what Windows "Blue" -- as the next version is reportedly called -- means for the future of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, PCs, and the computer industry as a whole.

Here's what we know for sure about Windows Blue: absolutely nothing. Zip. Not one official -- or even unofficial -- pronouncement from a qualified Microsoft source has seen the light of day. In spite of all the talk about Microsoft's new, post-Steve Sinofsky openness, there hasn't been anything forthcoming from the Windows dev team or from the higher-ups. Nada.

This for a product that's rumored to be shipping in six months!

I've been trying to trace the Windows Blue rumors back to their sources, and I've come up with three.

Mary Jo Foley kicked off the discussion last August, claiming that her sources said the next version of Windows wouldn't be called Windows 9, but "Windows Blue" instead. Foley went on to say it wasn't clear if Blue would be a new version of Windows, per se, or a glorified service pack and/or feature pack -- all still open questions now, six months later. In January, Foley added more murk by claiming, "Blue also is the way Microsoft is referring to the next substantial platform update for Windows Phone, the Windows Services (like SkyDrive, Hotmail, etc.), and Windows Server, according to my source." Blue, it is said, represents a shift away from Microsoft's monolithic three-year upgrade schedules, toward Apple-like one-year rolling revisions.

The second source, the Chinese-language Win8China website, had two revealing posts over the weekend. The first post talks about how Windows Blue will be deployed. The second post covers new features and capabilities. With the assistance of a Chinese-reading friend (thanks, Jane!) and cross-references to a Neowin post by commenter Windows4live, I think the translated and paraphrased Win8China rumors boil down to this:

Windows Blue development has passed Milestone 1 (no details as to what that entails). The next milestone is called MP, or "Milestone Preview" because Microsoft will release a preview version of Windows Blue after meeting that milestone. The Milestone Preview will precede the final product by "a few months," so developers and early adopters can work with it. Win8China claims that RTM is scheduled for June 7, at which point Blue will be made available on MSDN, followed by general availability in August. Blue will be free to Win8 customers.

Windows Blue will be faster, use less power, and run with a new, smaller kernel, version 6.3 (recall that Win8 runs kernel 6.2). The UI hasn't changed -- no Start button, no Aero. Windows Blue will support more screen scaling -- presumably for smaller (and larger?) screen sizes. There's some talk of "multi screen applications," although in the context it isn't clear if that refers to Metro apps. Not much change for PC and mouse users.

The Win8China site also published a screenshot that purports to show Internet Explorer 11 -- a new version -- running on Blue.

Before you dismiss the Win8China site out of hand, realize that during the Windows 8 beta process -- likely the most locked-down beta in Microsoft history -- there were only two sites that consistently came up with almost always accurate insider information: Win8China and Winunleaked. Unfortunately, Winunleaked and its enigmatic leader "Canouna" have disappeared off the face of the earth. The old Winunleaked site now redirects to the Microsoft main page, and Canouna's Twitter account has turned tweets up.

Also, over the weekend Foley posted an update, reconciling her earlier posts with the Win8China assertions.

The third original source of Blue information appears to be relying on a leak from a member of the Bing team. Tom Warren, reporting yesterday on The Verge, says "the Bing team is working closely on Windows Blue to improve search in a significant way." He goes on to describe an improvement to the Search charm, allowing searches across all Metro apps. Oy. I guess Warren's definition of "significant" differs from mine.

That's it. As best I can tell, there are no other original sources of information about Blue.

What to make of it? Hard to say. Most likely Blue will combine a few new Metro features with a smaller and faster kernel (important, but hardly interesting to Windows customers), and it may or may not include updates to Microsoft's embarrassingly underpowered Metro apps -- improvements that should've been rolling out by now and should keep rolling forever. That's the way Windows Live was supposed to work, but in the end didn't. That's the way Microsoft's Metro apps should work, but don't. Paul Thurrott has a sharp-eyed take on the inanity:

Microsoft hasn't taken very obvious and logical advice to fix Windows 8... on an ongoing basis. Instead, they're just doing what they've always done: Methodically prepare, test, and then release a big-bang, monolithic update. The only difference is that they're doing it in one year instead of three.

I get this eerie sensation we're sitting on the deck of the Titanic.

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