Beyond Windows 8.1

Beyond Windows 8.1

By InfoWorld Tech Watch
Created 2013-10-17 04:14AM

By now you've no doubt read that Windows 8.1 is a must-have upgrade for Windows 8 customers [1], but barely rates a second glance for entrenched Windows 7 or XP users. Sometime in the next few days -- after the servers go through their obligatory meltdown and Microsoft crows about a million or two downloads of dubious pedigree -- you'll likely install it, if you have a Windows 8 machine or VM. Just use the Windows Store app.

If you're smart, you'll immediately go in and make the changes necessary to defang the new version [2]: use local accounts; turn off SmartSearch; turn off Automatic Update; rebuild your libraries if need be; set to boot to desktop; disable the Metro hot corners on the desktop; install apps that will keep you out of Metro Hell (VLC media player, one of the PDF viewers, IrfanView); and install a third-party Start menu replacement.

That's all pretty much standard. I'll post a wrap-up slideshow shortly, and if you have suggestions for other primary Windows 8.1 remediation techniques, please add them to the comments below.

With the Band-Aid that is Windows 8.1 out of the way, a follow-on question immediately arises: Now what? Or as Mary Jo Foley over on ZDNet put it, What comes next after Windows 8.1? [3]

Foley quotes unnamed sources as saying there will be an update to Windows 8.1 in about six months, to coincide with the release of the next version of Windows Phone. Paul Thurrott quotes a single source [4]inside Microsoft and claims "where Windows Phone 8 has 33 percent 'API unity' with Windows RT, Windows Phone 8.1 will hit 77 percent." I think it likely that the Windows 8.2 update will modify the WinRT API specifically so it more closely matches the Windows Phone RT API. If Terry Myerson's truly concerned about the future of Windows (and every indication I have to date [5] says resoundingly that he is), I'd be willing to bet he won't change much at all about Windows 8 that affects users; my guess is that we're looking at a change in plumbing.

If we're lucky, the change in plumbing will be sufficient to allow simple Windows Phone RT apps to run on Windows RT, and thus on the Metro side of Windows 8 -- a quandary I discussed at length [6] 18 months ago: "That may be a long-term goal. Right now, it's nothing but a cruel joke."

The incompatibility problem arose, quite simply, because of Steve Sinofsky's steadfast determination to grow Windows "down" from the desktop, to tablets, then to the phone. With his phone background, Myerson's precisely the right guy to turn it around, to build the API "up" from the phone. If Foley and Thurrot's sources are correct, that's exactly what's going to happen.

I think it's a great development, not only because it'll bring some sanity to the Windows RT architecture, but also because enterprises and consumers both have a very good holding pattern -- a place to wait while Microsoft gets its act together. That place, of course, is Windows 7.

While Microsoft builds a better Windows desktop, we'll be treated to some touch-friendly hardware based on the new Windows RT -- which is to say, the superstructure built on top of Windows Phone. Some of it might even be compelling or at least competitive.

Foley goes on to predict that the next non-Band-Aid version of Windows -- let's call it Windows 9 -- will appear in the spring of 2015. While I don't doubt that's the current target, it seems much more likely that Windows 9, with both a better desktop and integrated support for Windows Phone apps, will appear later in the year -- and may even take one more year.

It wouldn't surprise me a bit if Windows 9 showed up about October 2015 -- which just happens to be three years after the Windows 8 disaster hit. That would put Microsoft back on a three-year Windows release cycle, which most enterprises (and many consumers) would welcome with open arms. There's even a tiny chance that Microsoft will revert to its (largely apocryphal) every-other-version's-a-winner rhythm.

Right now, my sources in the trenches tell me there's confusion in the dev ranks. While the general direction is well articulated -- build from the phone up -- the details are hard to sketch out. Surprisingly, I haven't heard of any mass defections. That's good news because, when the time comes, Microsoft's going to need all the old desktop hands it can find.

Myerson has one enormously important task ahead, which I haven't seen discussed lately. He has to straighten out the mess that is Windows branding. I'm not talking about the Surface vs. Surface RT vs. Surface 2 vs. Surface Pro vs. Surface Pro 2 branding stupidity [7], I'm talking about the whole enchilada: From Windows-that-doesn't-run-Windows-programs, to SkyDrive, to all of the Office-like things that don't resemble each other, to Live that isn't, and beyond -- somebody has to come up with a coherent, easily understood branding strategy, sooner rather than later.

Without decent, strong branding, all of Microsoft's post-apocalyp... er, post-Windows 8 efforts won't mean squat.

This story, "Beyond Windows 8.1 [8]," was originally published at [9]. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog [10]. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter [11].


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