Windows 9 release date, beta & features rumours - coming 30th September?
Windows 8 was a failure, but better features are coming with Windows 9 as we look to its release date and beta
Just as with Star Trek films, Microsoft seems to release a decent Windows with every other version. We've had the highs of Windows XP, the lows of Windows Vista, up to the much-loved Windows 7 and then onto the maligned Windows 8. With the latest version of Windows failing to win over consumers, Microsoft is now planning a revamp of the OS with Windows 9. In essence, the company seems keen to avoid another Windows Vista situation. Now's a good time, too, with the PC market starting to show some signs of recovery thanks largely to the tablet market being over-saturated. In this article we're rounding up all of the release date, features, leaks and price rumours. We'll put the latest information to the top of the article, updating regularly to keep you up-to-date with the new OS.
Why Windows 9 so soon?
We know that we're sticking our heads up over the parapets here, but Windows 8 isn't actually that bad an operating system. Underneath, Microsoft did a great job, making the OS faster to boot and more stable than Windows 7. Arguably, the Desktop mode in Windows 8 is better, too, with better file copying, a much nicer Task Manager and better support for multiple displays.
Windows 8's downfall, though, is the strange combination of desktop OS and the touchscreen, Start Screen (the Modern UI). The two don't seem related and many apps ship in two separate versions, one for each interface. With the Modern UI replacing the Start Menu, it was a step too far many people. Even Windows 8.1, which tweaked a few of the initial issues, didn’t go far enough, with its 'start button' only a short-cut to the new Start Screen.
With Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 on 12.54 per cent market share (Windows 7 has more than 50 per cent), it's clear that Microsoft needs to do something a bit more drastic with Windows 9, also known as Threshold.
There's a lot of confusion and conflicts over the Windows 9 release date. Russian pirate group Wzor, which has good form on this kind of thing, has said (via a hard-to-read Google Translation) that there will be a Windows 8.2 update in September with a Start Menu. Windows 9 will then be released after that, also with a Start Menu. However, trusting a Warez group over official channels isn't the best course of action.
A better idea would be to believe sources "familiar with Microsoft's plans", speaking to The Verge. According to the site, Microsoft will reveal Threshold on the 30th of September, letting developers get their first look at a redesigned Windows and put it to the test while the company finishes ironing out any remaining bugs before a worldwide launch in 2015.
This means that we're likely to see Windows 9 next year. Paul Thurrot has said that he expects Windows 9 to be released in April 2015. According to this schedule, it's entirely possible that we'll see an early preview edition of Windows 9 this year, before the final release in 2015. Microsoft is officially keeping quiet on the matter, for now, so we're going to have to wait a bit longer to find out what its plans really are.
Cortana built in
Cortana, Microsoft's digital personal assistant currently found on Windows Phone 8.1 devices, could be coming to desktops in Windows 9, it has been revealed.
First spotted by Neowin, the site says Cortana has now "graduated" from the experimental stage of Windows 9's engineering build to being part of a more stable release cycle. This means Cortana is becoming a more integral part of the operating system and is almost certain to launch alongside it when Windows 9 finally launches next year.
On the desktop, Cortana currently takes the form of an app that looks very similar to its smartphone interface on Windows Phone 8.1 devices. You can type in your question or ask it verbally, but Cortana will only take up roughly 25 per cent of the screen rather than the entire desktop, according to Neowin.
This is far from the fully-integrated service we've seen on Windows Phone 8.1, but it's still possible this could change in the final build. Microsoft has already said that Cortana is currently being updated at least twice a month, so there's plenty of time for Cortana to develop into a more all-encompassing service before Windows 9's expected release in April 2015.
First Windows 9 beta could come soon
Microsoft appears to be accelerating its Windows 9 programme to the point where we could see the first beta (the 'technology preview') in late September or early October, according to ZDNet and its anonymous sources. According to the information provided, anyone that installs the technology preview agrees to have updates automatically pushed to their computers.
It's a clear sign that Microsoft wants to move past the embarrassment of Windows 8 and focus on its new operating system, hopefully wooing users back along the way. We're likely to see many of the new features listed below appear in the technology preview, although they'll be works in progress and most-likely won't have the finished look-and-feel of the final Windows 9.
It's highly unlikely Microsoft will call the Windows technology preview Windows 9, as current rumours have all pointed towards Threshold being the preferred name for the early access release. It will probably only become Windows 9 when the company is ready to roll it out to the general public; developers will have to make do with Threshold until then.
Of all of the new features introduced with Windows 8, Charms have to be just about the worst. Rather than letting you simply print or email a file from within an application, Charms gave you the same features through a convoluted side-bar that you had to bring in from the right-hand side of the screen. It looks as though Microsoft has finally seen sense on this one and Windows 9 will ditch this feature completely.
A welcome return for the Start Menu
The good news is that Microsoft appears to be addressing one of the biggest issues with Windows 8 and is re-introducing the Start Menu. Screenshots leaked on MyCE.com appear to show a hybrid Start menu using elements from the old Windows 7 Start menu and the Start screen found in Windows 8.
The column of icons on the left should feel familiar to anyone used to older versions of Windows, but the Modern UI Live Tiles on the right are pulled straight from Windows 8. With the same Calendar, Mail, People and News tiles as Windows 8 and 8.1, it doesn't appear much else will change in the next version of Windows, but Start Menu devotees should at least find it easier to access programs.
The screenshot shows that the OS is Windows 8.1, but this is likely because it's a very early preview, hacked on top of the current OS, rather than a proper Alpha release. There's a good chance that the Start Menu will actually appear with the Windows 8.2 point release, but the screenshot gives us an idea of where Microsoft is going. If it does add the Start Menu into Windows 8.2 it will also give the company chance to get feedback, tweaking the system to make Windows 9 even better.
A proper desktop mode
Rather than forcing a mishmash of styles on people, it looks as though Windows 9 will have a proper desktop mode that full computers can boot into. More leaked screenshots have shown that the new Modern UI apps can now run in a windowed mode, letting those people using the desktop run the new apps, without having to switch to a touch-based interface.
There's likely to be a second version of Windows designed for touchscreen devices, which will boot into the Modern UI. This makes plenty of sense to us, and letting traditional desktop and laptop users have the interface they need and want should help win back a lot of people. According to a leak from WinBeta, these two versions of the operating system will be completely separate, with no access to the desktop for tablets or smartphones and no full-screen Start Screen for full PCs or laptops.
It's possible that both versions of the OS will have some kind of notification centre, however. This would put quick shortcuts to frequently used toggles in easy reach, similar to Windows Phone, but details are currently very scarce and it's unclear if the feature will be ready in time for the technology preview expected at the end of September.
Neowin is reporting that Microsoft is planning to add virtual desktops to Windows 9, further going after the desktop market that so wholeheartedly dismissed Windows 8. It's not exactly clear how the desktops will work, but it doesn't take a lot to guess, with both Ubuntu (and other flavours of Linux) and OS X already providing the feature. With this option, Windows 9 users will be able to have multiple desktops open at the same time, with a simple way to switch between then. It's a great productivity tool and something that Windows has been missing for a long time.
Switching from one version of Windows to another can be a time consuming process, but according to Neowin that could change with Windows 9. Current builds of the operating system apparently have a one-button upgrade system that's much simpler than any version of Windows to date. Unfortunately it's not clear whether this will actually make its way to the public versions of Windows 9, but it would be a major step forward for the operating system - currently users run the risk of losing all their data if they fail to backup their hard disk and botch an install.
With nothing confirmed, it's hard to work out just how much Windows 9 will cost. In all likelihood, the cost is likely to vary depending on whether you're upgrading from Windows 7/8 or buying it fresh. That said, Windows 8 Home (the full version) currently retails for around £90 in the UK, so we'd expect Windows 9 to cost a similar amount.
There have been some rumours, from Wzor, that Microsoft will offer a light-weight version called Windows Cloud, where the client would be free to download and everything else stored and run from online. This would be similar to Chrome OS works on a Chromebook. From the sounds of things, this version of Windows, if it exists, will be completely different to the full version of Windows 9 and possibly only loosely related.