Windows 9 Threshold: All you need to know about the next WindowsWhen is the Windows 9 release date and how will Windows 9 differ from Windows 8? Read on as we explore potential Windows 9 release dates, leaked Windows 9 screenshots and how the Windows 9 Start Menu looks set to change, hopefully for the better. (Last Update: 15 July)
Windows 9 is the most important software release in Microsoft's history. Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Update 1 have done a little to repair the damage from its most recent, and largely unpopular, operating system, and Microsoft needs to do something to repair the slide in PC sales.
Among the many things Microsoft needs to sort out is the Windows 9 Start Menu, but there's more to it than that. There are also debates about how Microsoft will sell Windows 9, with some kind of subscription model a possibility.
A leaked internal document from 22 May seems to confirm much of what we've already heard. It suggested that Microsoft is aiming for a Windows 9 preview release in Q2 to Q3 of 2015. The document also made reference to 'Windows 365', which could suggest a subscription and cloud-based system similar to that of Office 365.
A more recent report from ZDNet, however, suggests the Windows 9 could appear this autumn, much earlier than previously reported.
Read on for more details on what we know about Windows 9.
Windows 9 Release Date: When is Windows 9 coming out?There are a few schools of thought on the Windows 9 release date. One suggests it's planned for April 2015, which would make it just under two years since Windows 8 was released. This is a reasonably safe bet for a few reasons, including Microsoft's desire to shorten the gaps between releases, and the fact the original report came from respected Microsoft reporter Paul Thurrot.
Reasons against this theory include that there was no serious mention of Windows 9 at the recent BUILD 2014 conference, Microsoft's annual developers conference. Microsoft did show a sneak peek of a new Start Menu, but this is expected to come in an update to Windows 8 (either as 8.1 Update 2 or Windows 8.2) later this year.
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Microsoft didn't mention Windows 9 at all at its recent developer's conference
Another view suggests Microsoft is actually planning a much earlier launch. Renowned Russian pirate group WZOR, a notorious source of verified Microsoft tips in the past, recently tweeted that it believed the Windows 9 launch was coming much sooner, with an RTM (Release To Manufacturing) release towards the end of this year.
If this were the case, however, we'd expect to have heard a lot details by now, and it's possible WZOR's sources referred to the expected Windows 8 update planned for later this year and not Windows 9 itself.
The latest leaked info suggests late 2015 is the most likely Windows 9 release date. A Windows 9 preview in Q2 or Q3 in 2015 would preclude a launch any earlier than this, making a late Q3 (September/October) or early Q4 launch much more likely. This would neatly tie into the holiday buying season, when people are more likely to buy new laptops and tablets.
More recently, reports suggested that Windows 9 will be delayed later into 2015 due to another update to Windows 8.1. This would push the Windows 9 release date to June 2015 as opposed to the planned April 2015.
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Windows 9 Price: Could Windows 9 be subscription based?We don't know this for certain yet, but it's reasonably clear that Windows 9 will see a change in how Microsoft sells Windows 9 and that the Windows 9 price may be significantly lower than previous releases.
The two sources for information on this topic are WZOR (again) and respected journalist, and Microsoft expert, Mary Jo Foley. WZOR believes the base operating system will be free, with certain features costing extra as part of a subscription. This could take the form of enterprise features costing extra in a similar manner to Office 365.
Foley, meanwhile, believes that Windows 9 will be free, but only without the desktop. This is somewhat consistent with current Microsoft policy whereby products of a certain size or price are effectively exempt from the licensing fee, though how Microsoft would charge for desktop versions and what it would charge remain up for debate.
These two ideas aren't necessary mutually exclusive, either, and clearly show that discussions within Microsoft are ongoing.
As noted earlier, a recent leaked Microsoft document refers to 'Windows 365' and thus adds further fuel to the idea that Windows could have a subscription-based future. It seems unlikely, to us at least, that Microsoft would make such a radical change immediately, making the WZOR assertion of a subscription for certain features far more likely.
Windows 9 Beta/Preview: When will the Windows 9 Preview be released?We've heard several conflicting reports about when the Windows 9 preview would appear. Claims by the WZOR group suggested a late 2014 release, but they appeared to be contradicted by later reports of a Q2 2015 Windows 9 beta ahead of a full release later in 2015.
As noted earlier, however, these rumours have gone full circle now with well-placed sources now suggesting an Window 9 preview in autumn 2014. Assuming a April/June 2015 release date for the full version, a Windows 9 preview later this year would make sense.
This would give Microsoft a reasonable amount of time to gather feedback and iron out bugs before the full release, though it could have a negative impact on sales of Windows 8 devices in the run up to Christmas.
Windows 9 Start Menu: What will it look like?Most of the discussion about Windows 9 thus far has focused on the Windows 9 Start Menu and what changes Microsoft is expected to make to it. Indeed, Microsoft has fueled this by releasing the following early concept of what the future Start Menu will look like.
The Start Menu is returning in a serious way – it won't just open the full 'Modern UI' as seen in the most recent Windows 8.1 update. Instead, it looks as though Microsoft will integrate elements of that UI, such as Live Tiles, into it.
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It is expected that this Start Menu style will actually appear as part of a Windows 8 update, but it gives us a useful insight into the direction Microsoft is taking for the Windows 9 Start Menu and how it plans to win people over.
Microsoft is looking for a best-of-both-worlds approach. It's also an admission that Microsoft went too far in axing the Start Menu entirely for Windows 8.
above screenshot is the only official concept for a future Windows
release at present, but it includes a few more clues than just what the
Windows 9 Start Menu will look like.
Windows 9 Screenshots: What else is new?
Here you can see a Metro app and Desktop app on the desktop
Chief among these clues is the ability to pin 'Metro' apps to the taskbar and open them inside traditional desktop Windows. Arguably this is a more serious and more useful change than an updated Start Menu.
One of the many criticisms of the Modern Start Screen seen in Windows 8 is it forced people to use full screen apps when it wasn't necessary. This idea works fine on a tablet, but it doesn't make much sense when you're using a 24-inch (or more) monitor. This change would allow more users to enjoy the benefits of these apps without the drawbacks.
What we want to see in Windows 9Besides what we already know to be coming, there are few things we'd really like Microsoft to sort out for Windows 9
Better support for High DPI monitors
Currently, Windows 8 is rubbish on high DPI displays, such as the 3,200 x 1,800 resolution display found on the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus or the 10-inch, 1080p screen on the Surface Pro 2. One these devices, desktop apps often have implausibly small text or UI elements, which completely defeats the object of having nice, crisp high DPI screens.
Fewer hidden UI elements
One of the more irritating habits of Windows 8 was using hidden elements, such as hot corners, to access certain features. Again, many of these ideas worked great on tablets, but were an utter pain on laptops and PCs.
More Metro apps
An obvious one, this. Even now the Windows Store lacks a little depth beyond the big names, and it's an area that needs to improve. Unifying the app process between Windows Phone and Windows 9 would help this, and it's widely believed to be what Microsoft is working on.
Reduced OS size
Windows remains a somewhat bloated operating system. That's fine if you're using an old-school PC, but on an Ultrabook or tablet with limited space, handing over 30GB or so to the OS is a major pain.
What do you hope to see from Windows 9? Let us know in the comments, or read our look at Windows 8.1 Update 1