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Windows 9 Features: What we want to see from ‘Threshold’

Gordon Kelly

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Windows 9 Features: What we want to see from ‘Threshold’

Threshold is the leaked codename term that refers to the launches of Windows 9, Windows Phone 9 and a major Xbox One update in 2015. It will see Windows reach a crucial point - that will bring either rejuvenation or the slide to irrelevance.

Windows Phone’s momentum will be up against iOS 8 and Android 5.0, and Windows 9 will desperately try to restore the public confidence lost by Windows 8. Both need to up their game to compete.

Windows 9 is the most important of the lot. The desktop PC remains the one sector where Microsoft remains completely dominant and it is the foundation upon which it builds everything else. As such the pressure for Microsoft to bounce back and maintain its ‘one good, one bad’ OS release record has never been greater.

What does Windows 9 need to achieve that? We take a look:

The Modern UI

The Problem: In Windows 8 nothing divided customers more than the ‘Modern UI’ (formerly known as ‘Metro’). While the naming is terrible, its aim of trying to please both touchscreen and keyboard and mouse users was ambitious and admirable.

Modern UI has its fans, but it has alienated others and introduced alterations to long running Windows control methods that have left many baffled and frustrated.

The Solution: The first thing Microsoft must decide is its direction – does it persist with the Modern UI and try to make the integration with the Windows desktop more natural or - as many would like - separate it completely or even bin it along with Windows RT?

With so much invested I can’t see the latter happening (though Windows RT should be canned) and Windows 8.2 leaks show Modern UI apps becoming accessible from the desktop so it looks safe to assume Windows 9 will not become Windows 7 v2.0.

In which case, for starters we’d like to see a simple fix: better use of transparency. The start menu is a dizzying shift away from the desktop, but making its background translucent would keep users grounded. The mooted return of the start button is also crucial and must be an option as well as the choice to disable the Modern UI completely.

Meanwhile context is crucial: if you’re on the desktop the control panel should appear on the desktop. If you’re in the Modern UI it should appear in the Modern UI. Don’t keep jumping users between environments.

Windows 9 2

Scaling

The Problem: Ultra-high resolution ‘Retina’ displays in phones and tablets have brought a crispness we now hunger for on our PCs - something PC makers are fast beginning to offer. But Windows 8 doesn’t scale well. This means as the resolution gets higher and the pixels get smaller the desktop simply shrinks.

In Windows 8 users can enlarge text of Windows elements up to 200 per cent then manually increase the zoom in browsers and documents, but it is a frustrating mess and many parts - notably taskbar notifications - do not resize (as in the pic above). This is a fundamental flaw in Windows 8.

The Solution: ‘Make it scale’ is a simple request, but one that is very hard to implement. Windows 9 will have to make major changes to the core code and even then choosing a default scale size is virtually impossible.

For example, how big should icons be on the 13.3in 3200 x 1800 resolution of Samsung’s Active Book 9 Plus versus the 15.6in 1366 x 768 panel of a budget laptop or a 4k 21-inch, 27-inch or 30-inch monitor? Microsoft needs a clear vision and flexible options that don’t confuse the user.

Control

Windows 9 7The Problem: The Modern UI tried to satisfy both touchscreen and keyboard/mouse users, but in failing it arguably also made Windows 8 control worse for the latter (and dominant) group.

The mixture of ‘Hot Corners’, bezel-orientated swipes and Metro UI overlays may have delighted tech-savvy users with the latest kit, but – like so many aspects of Windows 8 – it frustrates others. PC makers similarly have taken it upon themselves to try and make navigation with keyboards and mice easier in Windows 8 with an array of custom gestures that has only further complicated and fragmented the control structure.

The Solution: Microsoft must take charge. Defacto gestures must be defined - gestures that PC makers must implement. And if Microsoft was previously brave enough to introduce the Windows Key, something similar may be a good idea for future Windows 9 hardware.

Regardless, mobile OSs have flourished through carefully thought out, intuitive controls and Microsoft needs to marry its vast experience in both to create an OS that is more enjoyable to use… then also backdate this to Windows 8.

Windows 9 8

Search

The Problem: By integrating desktop, Web and Modern UI search results, Windows 8.1 fixed many of the search problems in Windows 8. But it didn’t get them all and finding local files in particular is still easier and faster with Windows 7.

The Solution: One touch search must be made available through both the desktop and Modern UI. An obvious solution would be a long press of the Windows key for desktop users to bring up a search bar with full screen results.

Similarly Modern UI search results nonsensically appear in a narrow column with no scrolling options when it should both scroll and fill the screen. Google is the model here – it makes search ubiquitous throughout Android and Chrome OS, and Microsoft should do the same.

Windows 9 6

Walled Garden

The problem: Part of the appeal for Windows owners is that it is ‘not a Mac’, by which Windows fans tend to mean the platform doesn’t exhibit the same amount of control over the programs and services you must use.

Windows 8 has changed a lot of that. Modern UI settings cannot be backed up without a Windows Live account and SkyDrive, Modern UI apps cannot be downloaded from anywhere but the Windows Store, Modern UI searches must be through Bing, Skype is installed by default and on and on.

The Solution: Windows 9 needs to go back to serving users, not Microsoft services. If we want to use Google in the Modern UI, backup to Dropbox and install Modern UI apps directly from app makers or third-party stores offering cheaper prices we should be able to do so.

More than two years ago I argued Microsoft is turning into Apple and it remains on course. Microsoft doesn’t need to mimic Apple to be successful and it needs to stop force feeding users its services. Windows 9 should set users free and, in doing so, win them back.

Next, read our look at Windows 8.1's new features

Pbryanw

January 27, 2014, 10:24 pm

Having just got a Windows Phone and been impressed at its fluidness and increasing number of apps, I can't help but think that Microsoft missed a trick by not scaling it up for tablets. It's worked for Android & iOS. By scaling down a Desktop OS, you're left with a legacy desktop which adds to the memory footprint, and a load of apps which aren't made for touchscreen.

So, Windows 9 - separate Desktop & Tablet OSes - it won't happen (Microsoft have invested too much in a unified OS) but I can dream. And for desktop users it would be nice to have features aimed exclusively at us, instead of most of the work going towards unifying the two UIs. An App Store for the desktop would be a good start.

Ted

January 28, 2014, 2:54 am

Nice article, I'm really not a fan of how Microsoft are going about their new operating systems. Windows 7 is spot on (for desktop) support and networking its great however when it comes to windows 8 it really is a nightmare and i have no real enthusiasm to learn or use it when is a shame and pain for work. My hopes for windows 9 are at an all time low and i cannot help the feeling for a total change, maybe a linux based operating system!?

Al Winston

January 28, 2014, 7:00 am

Eeeeehhh, you're partly right. Bill Gates was known during development meetings in Microsoft to pound on the table and exclaim, "I want a Mac on the PC". Well, Apple (the masters of UI) have for the entire life of their touch devices maintained two OS's. Steve Ballmer firmly landed his cueball head up his tailpipe by failing to see this, making the mistake of merging it all to one OS. Dumb. So for Windows 9, if they want to save Microsoft, go back to the UI that STILL is holding forth throughout the world . . XP. Yup, international business still uses XP and swears by the interface. Just change what's under the hood: Faster than 6Gbps SATA for our SSDs, Instant Bootup, windowed access not only to Metro Apps, but to Android and (heaven forbid!) iOS apps. Do these things and you'll find that Windows can rejuvinate the very PC market that Windows 8 decimated.

SteelCity1981

January 28, 2014, 9:33 am

see fixing all the nagging issues like no start button, no way of disabling modern ui, and no way of enabling aero glass which are the 3 biggest common complaints could be an easy fix with a windows 8.2 update but with typical MS fashion, they will make these changes in Windows 9 and make people buy a new OS for these changes.

dourscot

January 28, 2014, 10:08 am

Some great points in this article.

Right now Windows 8.1 is like two parallel universes with different inhabitants. But the author should have mentioned that some actions (try running a video clip or opening a Jpeg) are unaccountably slower using the default Metro setting. Who thought that would fly?

shinsenai

January 28, 2014, 10:15 am

A lot of the statements in this article show a certain lack of familiarity with Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 in particular and several contradictions. In Windows 8.1 you can use the same background for the desktop and the start screen, why are you asking for transparency in Windows 9 (and you keep referring to the start screen as start menu...). If you are in the Desktop, the standard Control Panel is the first entry in the Settings charm. The results of a search for local files can already be shown as a large scrollable result page, what you get in the narrow column are just the most recent (and usually most useful) entries, press the Enter button or the magnifying glass and you get everything. The "walled garden" was always thought to be the single most import factor making Apple more reliable than Microsoft, since they do not have to fight continuously with buggy drivers and badly-written applications and now for Microsoft it becomes a limitation. Microsoft should not mimic Apple, but at the same time should move away from OS unification and have two separate OSs for PC and tablets as Apple does. Come on, make up your mind! Windows 8 is a bold move towards something new, it certainly needs refinements, but I think we should appreciate the effort. Windows 9 should introduce refinements in the UI language, more visible shortcuts, better integration, etc. but should also continue in the direction set forth by Windows 8 to look for new ways of interacting with OS and apps.

Paul Brasington

January 28, 2014, 12:02 pm

I can't agree that Apple is "the master of the UI" (as someone wrote here) - I really hate using the MacOS on a large screen, and for productivity Windows 7 set a new benchmark, which in its desktop mode Windows 8 refined. I'm sure Apple will make the most of its decision to keep things separate, but if Microsoft continues to iron out the inconsistencies between its two modes and addresses some of the other issues raised by Gordon it will be ahead of the game. My main setup is a laptop plugged into a large monitor, and generally I'll have OneNote open on the small screen in "metro" and everything else windowed on the big screen. It works well. The thought too that I might have a tablet +keyboard for mobile work, which at least gives me access to all my legacy apps if I need them, is also compelling. They don't need to separate the two modes, and I hope they won't. Then just need to make it easier to work in whichever mode suits, and stop trying to force you into an inappropriate full screen metro - and it looks like they are doing just that.

windows9

January 28, 2014, 2:13 pm

Microsoft should update Windows every year like 2015, they will release Windows 9 and 2016 and beyond, they release new Windows O.S. for free like apple is doing.......... Can Microsoft make Windows 9 free to Windows 8.x customers and make sure that OEM's... compete with apples new revenue stream for Mac OSX...........

Kage Edwards

January 29, 2014, 5:00 am

I agree and... "tech-savvy"? Most tech-savvy individuals use a keyboard, don't even need a mouse. How am I supposed to write PHP scripts, HTML markup, and study my RUby and Haskell, fidgeting on a touchscreen like a toddler? :/

Mike

January 30, 2014, 12:05 am

It seems obvious at this point that Windows 9, through emulation or some other technology, should run Android apps. This may be the only way to catch up in the tablet/mobile space. Maybe it is too difficult? Can't they just buy out BlueStacks and go from there? It would close the "app gap" and add a lot of value.

BreVDD

February 2, 2014, 6:37 pm

I agree with the 'not a mac'. All the 'problems' come down to one think: choise

BreVDD

February 2, 2014, 6:42 pm

One OS for all devices is a very good idea!

If you use a Mac you have totally NO advantage in using iOS because the ideas
are completely different.

But what Microsoft is done wrong now is thinking that all people will interact
with the system with a touchscreen what isn't that ideal for mouse and
keyboard.

But the idea of ONE OS is brilliant because whatever device you use, you will
know how to work with it because it's in fact the same. (Apart from some
features you only use with touch and some you only use with mouse but if you
want you can use them anyway.)

Tania Martin

February 11, 2014, 10:05 pm

I want to use a vertical screen without having to strain my arm to touch it and without putting smudges on it. (Using a mouse is a good way to achieve this wonderful goal)

I want an uncluttered desktop with a background image of my choosing. (Then I can access stuff by using something clever, like a start button on the lower left of my screen.)

I want an efficient system to store and access my data.

I want to easily find my programs/apps and a system that quickly and efficiently runs them.

I want quick start and shutdowns.

Sounds like I just asked for a faster Windows 7.

Do I want to spend all day smudging my vertical screen and straining my arms with gestures? NEVER!!!

PC fix

March 25, 2014, 11:40 am

These are the features I what to see in windows 9 is using less RAM and less power no start screen and a bit more like windows 7 but faster and clearer graphics they really should put windows 8/.1 on tablets only and kept windows 7 for none touch screens PCS

iBrus

August 7, 2014, 1:43 pm

The solution to scaling icons is simple. Implement new icon format as vector graphics.

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