Windows 9 release date, news and rumors
22nd Sep 2014 | 13:00
What do we know about the future of Windows?
What's the Windows 9 release date and price?
With Windows 8 and now Windows 8.1, Microsoft tried – not entirely successfully – to make tablets part of a continuum that goes from number-crunching workstations and high-end gaming rigs through all-in-one touchscreen media systems and thin-and light notebooks down to slender touch tablets.
The general consensus is that it still has a long way to go to produce a unified OS.
Despite rumors of an aggressive development and shipping schedule, there's no official word about what's in the next version of Windows, but there are plenty of rumors (many of them from Chinese enthusiast sites that claim to have leaked builds), plus more reliable information from job postings for the Windows and Windows Phone teams.
- Read all about Windows Phone 9 right here
There are also patents, which may or may not be relevant, and some rare comments from developers on the Windows team. Here's what we've heard about Windows 9 and what we think is happening.
What is it? A complete update of Windows
When is it out? We expect it to be out in 2015
What will it cost? We really have no idea. But if Windows 8 is anything to go by, it won't cost much to upgrade.
Windows Blue turned out to be Windows 8.1 rather than a completely new version of the Windows OS – Windows 9 will be that new version.
As for interim releases, we'll probably also get Windows 8.2 before we get Windows 9; Windows 8.3 though is likely to be a non-starter. And we have already seen the initial update to Windows 8.1, called Windows 8.1 Update 1.
The new update features improvements to the Start Screen including the ability to boot straight into the Desktop, the return of shutdown on Start and a more familiar task bar to unify the old and new user interfaces. The update was announced at Build 2014, along with features teased for Windows updates to come.
It certainly seems there's a new development cadence for Windows in action. It seems that Microsoft is set to put out new releases of Windows, Windows RT and Windows Server every year, the way it already does for Windows Phone.
The next complete version of Windows is being referred to as Windows 9, though this may change. And a new codename has appeared – Threshold, possibly in refrence to moving across from our reliance on the desktop to a new world where the Start screen is at the heart of how we use Windows.
While still just a codename, Windows 9 was referenced by Microsoft in a job posting, spotted by MSFT Kitchen on March 13, 2013.
The ad, for a Bing Software Development Engineer, says that the team will be delivering products "in areas including Windows 9, IE11 services integration, touch friendly devices including iPad and more."
Windows 9 release date
As of right now, we expect to see Windows 9 in a preview build (otherwise known as Windows Technical preview) to appear on September 30. The latest report from The Verge and Recode cite sources close to the matter with knowledge that a press preview event will take place on that date.
Recode's Ina Fried said that the event - geared towards developers and an enterprise audience - will take place in San Francisco with our own sources confirming that invites have apparently gone to relevant media houses and tech analysts.
Microsoft has confirmed that it won't be live streaming the event. The company has sent a statement to Winbeta.org stating that "There will be no live stream of the keynote" although one can expect news and content to be posted across all of Microsoft's MSDN blogs.
Microsoft communications chief Frank Shaw said the company wasn't ready to talk about how often Windows might come out when we spoke to him in January, but he agreed "you have certainly seen across a variety of our products a cadence that looks like that; Windows Phone is a good for example of that, our services are a good example of that".
We don't know if Windows 9 will be available as an upgrade from Windows 7 that you can buy as a standalone product or if you'll have to have Windows 8 to get the upgrade. But it may not be with us for a while yet – Windows business chief Tami Reller has talked about "multiple selling seasons" for Windows 8, meaning that we'll likely have several versions of it.
Some rumors have suggested late 2014 or early 2015 for a Windows 9 release, though the former seems wide of the mark. While claims and reports are all over the place, it seems like Windows 9 should drop before September 2015 at the latest to coincide with the back-to-school season and in time for the lucrative holidays season.
In January 2014, well-known Microsoft blogger Paul Thurrott said he believes the company plans to release Windows 9 (codenamed Threshold) in April 2015, less than three years after Windows 8.
The thinking appears to be that the Windows 8 name is now too tarnished and that – in contrast to Reller's comments above – Microsoft wishes to clear things out by releasing Windows 9 instead.
ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley recently echoed these reports, citing sources pointing toward a spring 2015 release for Windows 9.
In May, prolific Microsoft leaker FaiKee released two separate documents that he or she claims to be Redmond's full roadmap for Windows 9 and other products. The first of which, released to the My Digital Life forums, pointed to text reading "Windows 9 Windows Preview Release @ 2015 02-03."
That appears to point toward a preview release of either February or March 2015. The second leak was caught by Myce.com, and is a bit more vague in timing but less so in the actual text. That alleged official document detailed a preview release between Q2 and Q3 2015, so by September of next year at the latest.
In June, we learned from a ZDNet source that Microsoft would launch a preview build of the latest Windows in the fall. But most recently, WZOR struck again with a rumor that Windows 9 in full will launch in that same time frame. Naturally, a Microsoft representative snapped back at the rumor on Twitter.
How much will Windows 9 cost?
Not a cent. At least that's what Russian leaker collective WZOR claims to have heard. The group reports that Microsoft is considering pushing out Windows 9 for free, but cannot confirm at this time.
What the collective has heard exactly is that a prototype version is in the works in which a barebone version of Windows 9 will be available for free. For additional functionality, users would have to pay up through a subscription.
That said, ZDNet's Foley has heard the opposite: different SKUs of Windows will be offered for free or at different prices to OEMs and consumers, but that the desktop version will indeed have a sticker price. A recent, subsequent leak provided by WZOR seems to not only corroborate Foley's sources, but render its previous report moot.
Microsoft has learnt to be flexible though given the changing business environment. Google's Chrome OS was barely a blip on Microsoft's radar when Windows 8 launched. Now it is seen as a growing threat to Microsoft's low-end market, so much so that it is giving Windows 8.1 for free on devices sporting an 8-inch (or smaller) display. It is very likely that Microsoft will do the same for Windows 9 (although it could also choose to keep Windows 9 as a premium SKU).
What will Windows 9 features be like?
Will Windows 9 focus heavily on cloud computing? What is Bing's role in the new OS? How much of a power drain will this new version be? We know about as much as these leakers and reporters claim, but have collected all the latest rumors and scuttlebutt below.
Cortana: your new best friend?
Microsoft's answer to Siri and Google Now just busted out the gate on Windows Phone 8.1, but already Microsoft seems keen on expanding its reach to the company's desktop and tablet OS. Microsoft scoopers at Neowin seem to have inside sources that claim Cortana is not only up and running on internal Windows 9 builds, but its performance is improving.
Charms lose their luster
Could one of the more controversial additions to Windows 8.1 be on its way out? Paul Thurrott's points to the fact that it is still there in the latest build to date, 9841. Earlier rumours were at loggerheads with Thurrott's findings. A leak snapped up by Winbeta claims that the Charms menu of the current OS will not be included in the desktop and laptop versions of Windows 9. And, according to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, the feature is on the chopping block for Windows 9 tablets and 2-in-1 laptops as well.
One Windows 9 to rule them all
Not so much a rumor as it is a confirmation, newly-minted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella commented on the future of Windows recently, painting a picture of a unified operating system across all platforms.
"In the past we had multiple teams working on different versions of Windows," Nadella said. "Now we have one team with a common architecture. This allows us to scale, create Universal Windows Apps."
So, will Windows 9 spur the beginning of a single OS for all Microsoft devices, ultimately ending the fragmentation between Windows Phone, Windows RT and Windows proper? We can only hope.
It is worth however considering what Apple and Google are doing when it comes with their mobile and desktop offerings. Apple has subtly started to integrate some aspects of iOS, like Mac App Store, into OS X while Google already confirmed years ago that it would be merging Android and Chrome OS at some point.
Windows 9: Return of the Start Menu
Teased during the Build 2014 keynote address, the long-missed Start is basically guaranteed to make its return in Windows 9. Since that preview of the Start menu, replete with both Desktop and Modern UI elements, a screenshot (seen below) of an updated version of the feature has surfaced – ba-dum, chhh – through the MyDigitalLife forums.
Regardless of whether the snap is legit, since Microsoft has publicly promised the return of the Start menu, it should be safe to expect its debut in Windows 9 ... whenever that is. Subsequent leaks, the latest being from Winsupersite, confirm the fact that a new version of the Start menu will be back.
Truly windowed Modern UI apps are coming
We already know that the new Start menu will be alive and well in Windows 9, but the latest leak points to yet another quality-of-life improvement: truly windowed Modern UI apps. Today, Modern UI apps can be opened and managed from the desktop UI, but immediately switch to that interface when selected.
No more, claims Myce through a newly-leaked screenshot (seen below). The image, allegedly pulled from Threshold build # 9795, shows a Metro, or Modern UI, app opened in a windowed state on the (likely) Windows 9 desktop.
Machine learning is the future of Windows?
That's at least what Microsoft Research lead Peter Lee wants out of Windows 9. He said as much in an in-depth interview with Digital Trends recently, pointing to Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform and Bing to hopefully be the drivers behind the next versions of Windows.
"Using machine learning to extract relationships, entities, key ideas being worked on and bring those to the surface in tools. Maybe even digital-assistant tools to make companies more productive and smarter. That's one area we're going at" for Windows 9, Lee said.
"If I write a document and I want to say, share this with the appropriate people that work with Vikram from the meeting, or say, 'what's trending around me at work,' not in my personal space but at work … answering questions like that requires a very different kind of machine learning," he said.
Windows 9 to be smaller, with more apps
In the last Microsoft earnings call CFO Peter Klein made it clear that Microsoft has got the message that Windows 8 tablets need to be cheaper; "we know that our growth depends on our ability to give customers the exciting hardware they want, at the price-points they demand."
Another revealing Microsoft job advert talks about having Windows Phone and Windows RT apps run on both Windows Phone and Windows – it's no secret that Microsoft wants to unify things in this area.
"Do you wish the code you write for Windows Store apps would just work on the Windows Phone and vice versa? If so, then this is the role for you! We are the team leading the charge to bring much of the WinRT API surface and the .NET Windows Store profile to the Phone."
That sounds like a longer term goal, given that the job advert was on the Microsoft Careers site at the beginning of February 2012, and it's being driven by the Windows Phone team, but it could give developers an incentive to write apps for the Windows Store and give Windows 9 users more to choose from. Scaling apps to fit different size screens would help here too.
Windows 9 reaches for the cloud
A vision for a smaller version of Windows with more apps sounds like it lines up nicely with rumors that Windows 9 will focus heavily on cloud computing. WZOR claims to have information that supports this idea, pointing toward a Chrome OS-like operating system that requires an internet connection.
According to the leaker group, the core of Windows 9 will live in the given system's BIOS, while the rest of the OS will reside in the cloud, ready for picking via various apps and services. Exactly how much of the standard Windows functions would be left out is what's worrying about this rumor.
Windows 9 power management
Back in January 2013, a Channel 9 video featuring Bruce Worthington, who leads the team working on Windows power management fundamentals, included some rather technical details about saving power in Windows and the improvement in Windows 8.
"If you look at the number of times we would wake up the CPU per second," he explained, "for Windows 7 you would typically see numbers on the order of one millisecond. We would literally be waking up the CPU a thousand times per second. If you look at Windows 8, on a clean system, we have numbers that are better than a hundred milliseconds. "
Now that Windows Phone 8 is based on the Windows Phone kernel, power management has to get better. "Now we're looking forward to the next release and we can get even farther – especially as we start interacting more and more with our phone brethren.
"They want us to be quiet for multiple seconds at a time. They even talk about minutes in some scenarios which is pretty far afield for us, to be thinking about minutes of being completely quiet. At least getting into the multi-second we're definitely ready to think about that."
Especially with Intel Haswell bringing Connected Standby to Core systems, not just low-power Atom tablets, saving power looks like a priority for Windows 9 (especially if it comes out at the same time as Intel's new chips.
"For the next release there's all kinds of things we've already identified that are going be quite challenging but at the same time the user is going to get a tremendous boost forward," Worthington promised.
Windows 9 gestures and experiences
There are features we predicted for Windows 8 based on Microsoft patents and technologies we've seen demonstrated by Microsoft leaders like CTO Craig Mundie that didn't make it into the OS. There are features Microsoft plans for every version of Windows that get cut to ship on time; sometimes they reappear, sometimes they don't.
Kinect-based 3D gestures might be on the cards this time around, especially as we hear that some notebooks will soon get 3D cameras – although from other suppliers rather than Microsoft.
Using two cheap webcams rather than an expensive 3D camera could make gesture recognition hardware cheap enough for laptops and then you could wave at the screen from a distance.
And maybe Direct Experience will arrive in Windows 9. The patent explains this as a way of starting Windows to play media files in a special purpose operating system and there are improvements in Hyper-V for Windows Server 8 that Microsoft could use to make Windows 9 work better for this, like being able to move a virtual machine from one place to another while it's running.
One obvious question is whether Windows 9 will be 64-bit only – something that Microsoft alluded to even before Windows 7 shipped – but that's going to depend on what chips are in PCs. Given that even lowly Atom processors are now 64-bit capable, it would make sense for Microsoft to go full 64-bit.
- Now why not read Surface 3: what we want to see