Windows 8.1 launched to the general public in October, but that doesn't mean Microsoft's Windows team got a holiday. On the contrary, it has already begun work on the next major OS release.
According to the latest batch of reports, the successor to Windows 8.1 will allegedly accomplish many things. For instance, apart from bridging the gap between the classic desktop environment and the latest Windows experience, it will introduce much-requested features and further unify Microsoft's three platforms (Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox One).
That sounds like a lot of hopes and dreamed pinned on to one operating system - and it's not immediately clear how Microsoft can juggle all of these ambitions and pack them into a single release. Still, the rumour stories are popping up left and right.
To help you keep track of what Microsoft is planning, Pocket-lint has compiled a rumour round-up. Check it out, and let us know in the comments what you think or if you've heard anything else.
What is Windows 9 'Threshold'
Microsoft wants to abandon the Windows 8 brand, according to Paul Thurrott of WinSuperSite. Windows 8 was not well-received by critics and users alike, so the company is allegedly planning to name its next major OS release Windows 9.
That said, Windows 9 is currently going by the codename Threshold. That's also a planet name from the fictional universe in Microsoft's Halo video game series.
Similar to Windows Blue (the codename for Windows 8.1), ZDNet's Mary Foley claimed that Threshold will include a "wave of operating systems across Windows-based phones, devices and gaming consoles".
That means Threshold isn't necessarily a single Windows OS but rather major coinciding upgrades for Microsoft's three platforms (which includes Xbox One, Windows, and Windows Phone). In fact, Threshold will apparently ship with three product SKUs. In other words, it will ship with three versions.
The first version will be a consumer-focused Windows similar to Windows RT. The second will be a traditional consumer version based on x86, while the third and final version will be a traditional Enterprise SKU.
Windows 8.1 Update 1
Keep in mind that Windows 9 is different from Windows 8.1 Update 1.
Various reports and leaked screenshots have recently indicated that Microsoft will update Windows 8.1 in 2014. That update - called Update 1 (or GDR1 internally) - will likely be a "relatively minor" service/feature pack. It is expected to release alongside Windows Phone 8.1 on 11 March via the Windows Update tool.
Both ZDNet and WinSuperSite have claimed Update 1 will let users pin Windows Store apps to the desktop taskbar. It could also optimise memory and disk space requirements, allowing Windows 8.1 to run on lower-end small tablets.
Lastly, Update 1 might include a desktop-like close button for Windows Store apps, meaning you wouldn't have to rely on gestures or keyboard shortcuts to close an app.
When will Microsoft preview Threshold?
Microsoft will give a preview of Threshold at its Build developer conference in April 2014. Kind of. The company plans to discuss its "vision for the future of Windows" at Build, which includes touching upon Windows 9 Threshold, according to WinSuperSite. That means don't expect anything "grandiose."
When will Microsoft publically release Threshold?
Microsoft is planning to release Windows 9 Threshold to the general public in April 2015, according to WinSuperSite.
What are some rumoured Threshold features?
Metro apps running in Windows on desktop
WinSuperSite claimed Microsoft will implement two key user-interface changes in Windows 9 Threshold. The first of these is the ability to run or "float" Metro-style/Windows Store apps on the desktop.
There are third-party utilities, such as ModernMix, that currently allow this functionality on Windows 8.1, but the next version of Windows will have the functionality built in. In other words, according to WinSuperSite, users will have the option to run Metro apps "in floating windows on the desktop".
Metro apps are touchscreen-friendly apps designed especially for Microsoft's new Windows experience rather than the traditional desktop environment. Metro is also the name of Microsoft's design language originally conceived for mobile internet devices and smartphones, and it sometimes doubles as an internal code name used by developers.
Speaking of the Metro design language, WinSuperSite reported that Windows 9 Threshold will include Metro 2.0. Microsoft plans to mature and fix Metro, as well as make it a "major focus area of Threshold". The report didn't specify what kind of changes to expect, but it speculated that there would be a "windowed mode" included that works on desktop.
"Mini" Start Menu
WinSuperSite claimed Microsoft will implement two key user-interface changes in Windows 9 Threshold, as mentioned earlier. The second of these features is a "mini" Start Menu.
Specifically, the company wants to bring back the Start Menu (alongside the recently re-introduced Start Button) to help existing, non-power Windows users both embrace and navigate the changes introduced in Windows 8.
ZDNet reported that Microsoft has internally referred to this Start Menu as "mini-Start", mostly because it won't be a full-screen Start Menu like in Windows 8.
It might be a "Desktop thing", like the Windows 8.1 Start Button, according to ZDNet, or it could provide a mini version of the installed apps list. That said, it'll likely work with touch, although it's targeting users who rely on keyboards and mice.
Further unification of platforms
Windows 9 Threshold will include updates for all three of Microsoft's platforms, as mentioned earlier. That's because, according to ZDNet, Microsoft wants to upgrade them so they share even more common elements.
Microsoft's Xbox One OS, Windows 8.x OS, and Windows Phone 8 OS already share the same Windows NT core. However, with Threshold, they'll also share a single app store, similar developer toolset, support for the same core set of "high-value activities" like Microsoft Office, decision making/task completion via services like Bing, IT management, and more.
And that's it. Keep checking back for more though, because Pocket-lint will continually update this article as more rumours surface. You can also check out our Microsoft hub to stay up to date on the latest Windows.