One of my favorite words, and one that I use with notable restraint is ‘marquee’. If 2013 was a year of consolidation and smoothing the edges for Windows, then 2014 has the potential to be a marquee (look it up) year for Microsoft.
At the forefront of it all is the Windows platform. It always is, isn’t it?
After the initial shock and awe that followed its initial release, the modern platform is slowly starting its ascent. And the software titan has started working on a couple of updates to its flagship operating system, an update and a full release, albeit without much noise.
Then again, sometimes the softest voice speaks the loudest.
Instead of announcing and outlining everything beforehand, Microsoft has decided to take the silent route, both with Windows and Windows Phone. Only after certain milestones are reached does the software titan makes things official these days.
Nevertheless, what we do know up until now, from unofficial sources is this:
Shells and Kernels
One of the biggest signs of what is in store with a new version of Windows is by taking a look at the kernel version. If it gets a bump, then there is a good chance Microsoft has added in some new optimizations in a particular version. If not, then the opposite is true.
We have reports that for Windows 8.1 Update 1 the company will not change the kernel version and will stick to the NT kernel version 6.3. Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, as you may recall, updated the version from 6.1 to 6.2, and then 6.2 to 6.3 respectively.
So I guess, major updates are out of the question — this new refresh is all about further optimizations, experience refinements and enabling more (read smaller) form factors for the Surface tablets.
Oh, and return of some familiar features. Which brings us to a homecoming.
The Return of the King
For some productivity is king, and the Start Menu is the uncrowned emperor of familiarity and efficiency. Sure, a lot of users have transitioned to the Start Screen, but not everyone has got used to it on PCs, desktop and laptop.
And for these users, Microsoft is working on reintroducing the Start Menu in a future version of Windows. It could be Threshold (now said to be Windows 9) or the upcoming spring update to Windows 8.1 due out in April. There are divided opinions on this, not just the return but also the timing.
Some think such a feature is best reserved for Windows 9 in order to ensure the Start Screen stays in the spotlight as users make the move to the Modern version of Windows on tablets and PCs.
Others need their fix, and they need it like yesterday!
Having said that, it remains to be seen what kind of a Start Menu is included. Previous reports hinted that it could be a minimal design menu of sorts that provides quick access to power options and installed programs. Read: not the one included in Windows 7.
Microsoft may also decide to fancy it up a bit with some Metro design elements. Others are doing it openly, so why not?
In any case, one thing is almost certain. The returning Start Menu will only be offered to the desktop versions of the operating system. No one that uses a tablet has any business using a Start Menu — in a perfect world they should not.
Then again, the following should not be happening in a perfect world either.
Android Meet Windows, Windows, Android
This is the day many Microsoft fans dreaded. No one is talking about dual booting Android with Mac OS X. Or Linux for that matter. But there are talks of installing the Android operating system side by side on tablets, laptops, even desktop PCs. What’s next? Workstations?
And the unlikeliest of candidates is leading the charge — Intel.
The chip giant has gabbed and yakked the possibilities of seeing the two popular platforms side by side in future devices, and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich hyped up the scenario at CES 2014, confirming that hardware vendors were developing such devices.
This is as frontal an assault as any, and while Microsoft too has been keen on seeing Windows Phone and Windows RT coexist with Android on smartphones and tablets, PCs are another realm entirely.
We will have to wait and see what happens here, but one area that Microsoft cannot afford to wait any further is the merging of two of its ARM based mobile platforms.
The Reach of An ARM
I am still staggered at how a company like Microsoft missed this beat! The Android and iOS umbrellas, both, cover smartphones and tablets. Redmond probably thought it had a chance of slotting in Windows RT between Windows proper and Window Phone.
A chance to try something different.
But when you think about end users (more specifically those that own, use and love both their Windows Phones and Windows tablets) then a unified operating platform becomes a necessity.
An absolute necessity, if ever there was one.
No one likes fragmentation like this, having to buy apps multiple times, from two different stores. Developers could use a little rest too, without having to juggle both Windows Store and Windows Phone Store. And the coders over at the Redmond campus can probably use a break as well.
Obviously, a few company officials have already mentioned this, and there are reports that a unification of these two platforms is already under way. Soon we will have only two versions of Windows. And this is one beat Microsoft cannot afford to miss this year.
Even if Windows 9 marks its arrival next year, we need some concrete confirmation of the merger by the end of the year. A sign will do, Microsoft, a sign will do.