For nearly two decades, Windows has been the standard operating system for PCs, and it easily made the transition from desktops to laptops. Unfortunately, the transition to mobile and touch-centric devices has not been as smooth, mainly because Microsoft tried to produce an operating system that would work equally well on touch-centric and keyboard-centric devices. That effort resulted in Windows 8, the biggest overhaul of the platform in years, and plenty of criticism
A recent update in the form of Windows 8.1 did improve the OS. However, rumors are now swirling that Microsoft is already focusing on release of Windows 9 rather than more updates for Windows 8. If the speculators are correct, we could see a more desktop-oriented Windows 9 as early as April 2015.
Goodbye Windows 8?
The latest string of rumors stem from a report that was published by well-known Windows watcher and blogger Paul Thurrott. At the core of Thurrott's report is the notion that Microsoft is no longer interested in trying to fix Windows 8. Instead, he suggests, the company feels it would be better to release Windows 9 to help distance the OS from all of the issues and complaints associated with Win 8.
As the story goes, Windows 9, which is being referred to in the press as "Threshold," will be another re-working of Windows, but instead of making it more suited for mobile devices, the main OS will once again be engineered for traditional PCs. Although the Metro user interface, which is touchscreen oriented, will not be going away, it may be updated to allow for Metro applications to run in a similar way to older Windows programs.
"Threshold is more important than any specific updates," Thurrott writes. "Windows 8 is tanking harder than Microsoft is comfortable discussing in public, and the latest release, Windows 8.1, which is a substantial and free upgrade with major improvements over the original release, is in use on less than 25 million PCs at the moment.
"That's a disaster," Thurrott declares, "and Threshold needs to strike a better balance between meeting the needs of over a billion traditional PC users while enticing users to adopt this new Windows on new types of personal computing devices.
"In short," Thurrott concludes, the next version of Windows "needs to be everything that Windows 8 is not."
A Tricky Strategy
Microsoft is in a difficult position as it is now faced with a market trend toward mobile devices but the inability to develop a single operating system that pleases all of its customers whether they are on traditional computers, tablets or smartphones.
We asked tech industry analyst Jeff Kagan for his thoughts on Microsoft's OS challenge. Kagan points out that Apple has been plenty successful with two distinct operating systems for mobile devices and computers.
"There is similarity between them all if needed, but [the operating systems] are also completely separate," Kagan said.
The implication is that Microsoft could be just as successful, if not more so, with two completely separate operating systems -- one optimized for more traditional desktops and laptops, and another optimized for touchscreen devices.
Unfortunately, the current Metro UI is so geared toward touch controls that many people end up frustrated when trying to use their Windows computers if they do not have touchscreen displays. Reverting to a more traditional desktop OS with Windows 9 may end up pleasing some customers, but it will likely have to be part of a broader strategy that also ties in well for mobile devices.
Of course, as we have seen lately, Apple isn't immune to problems with its operating systems either. The lists of user complaints about OS X Mavericks and iOS 7 are plenty long, too.