What's Next for Windows?
It's no secret Microsoft Windows 8.x hasn't lit the world on fire at a time when Redmond's needed a big hit.
Adding the new tile-based interface for Windows 8 that can run on both PCs and tablets was a high-stakes gambit Microsoft had to make in order to stem the risk of the Apple iOS, Android and the Google Chrome OS replacing Windows not just among consumers, but in the enterprise as well.
Despite some uptake, the numbers are disappointing. Yet it's too early to declare Windows 8.x a failure, just as it would be incorrect to say Windows Vista was a total loss. Even though colossal mistakes were made with the development and rollout of Windows Vista, it introduced significant new features such as User Account Control (UAC), as well as support for advanced graphics features. Though enterprises largely passed on Windows Vista, a refined UAC helped propel its successor, Windows 7, into the most successful OS to date.
Perhaps the biggest failing of Windows Vista was the time wasted on developing it, which caused Redmond to neglect building on company founder Bill Gates' vision of expanding on the Windows tablets launched in 2001.
Yet as Windows Vista primed the pump for Windows 7, it's plausible Windows 8 has done the same for Windows 9 (or whatever Microsoft ends up calling the next release). Microsoft is expected to introduce the next version of Windows, code-named "Threshold," at its Build conference this month.
If the rumors are accurate, Threshold will further unify the entire Windows platform, including Windows Phone and Xbox One. For PCs and tablets, the expectation is the next version of Windows 9, expected to ship next year, will sport a refined modern interface and will run Windows Store apps that will also work on the traditional desktop.
Unifying the two OSes to appear and function as a single system, rather than sporting the split personality of Windows 8.x, would be a key step forward. More important, the roadmap Microsoft rolls out could be its last chance to capture a meaningful share of the end-user computing environment -- both in the enterprise and consumer environments.
Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.