So then, the big news for this brand new year is that Microsoft is ready to put some serious development work behind its new operating system, codenamed Threshold.
In the meantime, the Windows 8 platform has matured a lot with Windows 8.1.
Not only has Microsoft fixed many of the bugs and niggles in the operating system, it has also developed and refined its in-house apps. Third party developers are also in on the action and the Windows Store keeps on adding new apps and games.
As Things Stand
Friends and foes, fans and naysayers, will all agree on one thing, though. The Windows 8 launch could have been better. It could have been better handled in development, it could have been better explained in marketing, and it could have been better promoted in hardware.
The various hardware partners were, back then, still reeling from the shock of something this radically new, and still feeling the smite from the mobile assault and declining sales.
Things are somewhat better now, with a variety of devices available for purchase at all price points. And while the numbers are yet to come in, there is a general feeling in the air that the sales performance of devices powered by Windows has been somewhat satisfactory.
Or at least, not the sheer disaster that was reported this time last year with Windows 8.
Luckily, Microsoft has also been building towards a fresh start. Talks of Windows 8.2 have died down, and Windows 9 is the new party in town. Some new fresh faces will soon be seen in Redmond offices after the retirement of CEO Steve Ballmer. A few of his close friends may even part ways with Microsoft.
Bill Gates has been buzzing with enthusiasm lately, at least in his last few appearances at the company. We already know that he is overseeing the search for a new leader, but there is every chance that he will work closely with the new CEO once he (or she) is announced.
What remains to be seen is whether the company will go in with a fresh approach too.
Clearly, what it is doing is not working wonders of any sorts — but it is working, albeit very slowly. The Windows Phone platform is on the up and Windows 8.1 is finding itself installed on more devices.
Admittedly (and rightly so) we have not seen any official signs talking about what path the new CEO will tread once that person takes charge. But there is every reason to believe Redmond would want to keep doing what is working, while work on what is not.
A complete 180 degrees turn (regardless of whether it is necessary) will do more harm than good.
Looks Are Everything
At least in the world of operating systems they are. At least in the world of Windows 8 they are. Rarely do we see companies and partners that decry the new OS talk about how expensive it is, or what kind of hardware it comes on.
Most complains are about how the latest Windows plays — how it looks.
Aesthetics, performance and usability are three different things. And while Microsoft’s modern operating systems may have locked the first two, the usability factors has been a hindrance not just on Windows 8 but also on Windows Phone 8.
Under the hood both platforms are just as good, or better, in many cases than what the competitors are peddling — Android, iOS and BlackBerry, even Linux. Redmond’s sluggishness in adding necessary features (on smartphones), and forcing an interface (on desktop) put off the progress by a few paces.
The Way Forward
Things, ultimately, could not be more interesting for Windows 9. The new operating system can actually go in three directions. It could be a bit of a fallback to the familiarity of Windows 7 with a returning Start Menu, the ability to run Metro apps in desktop, and keeping the two environments separate on PCs.
Or it could take the middle road — an evolution and refinement of what is available on Windows 8.1, with more polished apps, a more elegant Modern UI, and a more mature set of features.
And however unlikely it may seem, the software titan could also think of something overly revolutionary. Development on Windows 9 has been going for some time now, according to previous rumors. It has only now come into the forefront.
But that does not mean Microsoft cannot pull a rabbit out of its (proverbial) hat and bring something revolutionary to the tablet. Gates is trying to become more involved with certain aspects of the company, a new CEO may yet be an outsider with new ideas, and the release date is not set in stone.
Whatever path the company chooses, it will boil down to how much choice it provides.
Give users choice of the type of environment they want, and call it a day. Give users the choice of running their apps in full screen or desktop mode, and let them decide. Give users the option of a full Start Menu along with the Start Screen, and they will keep quiet.
Enough has been said about Microsoft’s modern OS strategy to last a lifetime.
But the way it is shaping up, Windows 9 could be the company’s most important release. Ever.