2/21/2015

Windows 10: release date, price, news and features

Update: Following the January 21 event, check out our post-event chats with Microsoft execs, like CEO Satya Nadella sharing his thoughts on the nitty gritty of Windows 10, which you can read below. Plus, it looks like the next major Technical Preview build is just around the corner:

Why Satya Nadella wants you to love Windows 10
Read our interview with Terry Myerson to discover the fate of IE, RT and MSRP
With Windows 8 and now Windows 8.1, Microsoft tried – not entirely successfully – to make tablets part of a continuum that goes from number-crunching workstations and high-end gaming rigs through all-in-one touchscreen media systems and thin-and light notebooks down to slender touch tablets.

The general consensus is that it still has a long way to go to produce a unified OS. Recently, Microsoft publicly made the first steps to doing just that, with Windows 10. Skipping the Windows 9 name entirely, the Redmond, Wash. firm aims to step into the next generation of computing with the right foot forward.



Microsoft's Windows 10 Technical Preview is available through its Windows Insider Program website. You'll need a Microsoft account to get it, and it's worth bearing in mind that it's not the finished product, so it will be a bit rough around the edges.

Is the new OS any good? Read our hands on Windows 10 review
While information regarding the Windows 10 Road Map slowly trickling through with each reveal event, this is what we know so far regarding the stymied release of Windows 10:

Starting with Windows Technical Preview (WTP) for laptops and desktops back in September 2014, the preview build extended to select smartphones on February 12.
The latest major WTP build launched on January 23, 2015 and was made available to download through Microsoft's Windows Insider Program.
Currently, the WTP is at Build #9926, with the next major release said to land within the next month.
The Technical Preview will end sharply on April 15 of next year, which conveniently leaves right off at...
Microsoft's Build 2015 conference next April, at which the company will have even more announcements and likely issue a Windows 10 release date.
The company promises a release to consumers and enterprise "later in the year" in 2015, Myerson said during the January 21 event.
Cut to the chase
What is it? A complete update of Windows
When is it out? It could launch as early as June 2015
What will it cost? For Windows 8.1 users, it will be free for one year
How much will it cost?

Confirming recent reports, Microsoft's Terry Myerson announced that Windows 10 will be free for Windows 8.1 users for its first year. While there's no word on pricing for users still on Windows 7 or an older version, Microsoft confirmed a while ago that the two most recent Windows versions will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 directly.

Microsoft's chief blogger Brandon LeBlanc also confirmed that Microsoft will support those who scored a free upgrade to Windows 10 with security and system updates for the lifetime of those Windows 8.1 devices.

But most recently, Neowin cited sources claiming that Windows 10 will start appearing on consumer hardware this coming June. Simultaneously, news that Microsoft has trademarked the term "Microsoft 365" with the intent of it being a service has folks buzzing about the possibility of a subscription-based Windows to come, though that's not likely to be Windows 10. Oh, we hope not.

Read all about Windows Phone 10 and Office 365 right here
Step into Microsoft's new Office

Shortly after a leaked video on WinBeta revealed Microsoft's Universal Office apps in detail, the company issued an update to the Windows 10 Technical Preview with just that. WTP users can now download the new Word, PowerPoint and Excel Universal apps.

Like the whole of Windows 10, these apps are designed to work on Windows 10 laptops, tablets and phones. This update comes in advance of Office 2016, Microsoft's desktop-based version of the suite, which we expect to see debut in the second half of 2015. It's likely that Office 2016 will interact with its Universal app counterparts through OneDrive and other solutions.

Bill Gates's not-so-little secret

The co-founder and long-time former CEO of Microsoft has been working on a secret project for Microsoft known internally as the "Personal Agent," Gates revealed in his third Ask Me Anything on Reddit recently. This Personal Agent is a piece of software designed to remember everything you do on a PC and provide guidance for how to prioritize and assistance in interacting with those apps and files.

"One project I am working on with Microsoft is the Personal Agent which will remember everything and help you go back and find things and help you pick what things to pay attention to," Gates disclosed on Reddit. "The idea that you have to find applications and pick them and they each are trying to tell you what is new is just not the efficient model - the agent will help solve this. It will work across all your devices."
Windows Phone users get a sneak peek

Microsoft will soon (if not already) issue a major update to Lumia devices running the latest version of Windows Phone 8.1, codenamed "Denim". The Denim update will bring just a taste of the features that Windows 10 will employ heavily on Microsoft's phone lineup, namely Cortana.

This, of course, is in addition to a host of more features, like Live Folders, a Glance Screen tool, enhancements to Internet Explorer and the camera app among others. You can check out all the details in our in-depth Lumia Denim update explainer.

Soon after, Microsoft's VP of Operating Systems Joe Belfiore teased that more information regarding Windows 10 on phones is coming within the next two weeks as of this writing. The new details will come in a video, according to Belfiore.

Most recently, images of the new mobile OS leaked through NokiaPowerUser, revealing the settings pane and notifications interface. Much of these features seem to be more of the same, but expanded, like native VPN support and a do not disturb function. The full Windows 10 for phones preview is expected to land sometime in February.

Actually, Microsoft is planning a March 2 event, which could be an in-depth look at what's inside the preview build that would have launched by then on a limited set of phones. This event – during MWC 2015 in Barcelona, might we add – could mark a wider launch of the preview as well. Don't, you'll get all the details from TechRadar no doubt.
Microsoft reveals something huge

Like, 84 inches huge. Microsoft has developed an entirely new device to showcase the features and capabilities of Windows 10, called the Surface Hub. Redmond team members revealed and demoed the device during its January 21 reveal event.

The device is an 84-inch, 4K touchscreen that is designed for enterprise users – generally meeting rooms. The Hub also features stylus support similar to the Surface Pro 3 with a pen specifically made for the device.

The device is designed to offer a holistic solution for meetings from web conferencing to whiteboarding and document sharing. No word on price or release date was given.
... and something intangible

During its January 21 event, Microsoft revealed Windows Holographic and Microsoft HoloLens, a brand new headset and hologram system designed to blow the concept of augmented reality wide open. Every Windows 10 device will support holographic computing APIs.

Windows Holographic is Microsoft holographic computing platform, while HoloLens is the proof-of-concept for the firm's holographic computing initiative. The company built a brand new holographic processing unit (HPU) to process terabytes of data from every sensor packed into the HoloLens.

Through the HPU, HoloLens can run completely independent of any other device. Microsoft demonstrated the technology on stage, creating a 3D model using holograms and later 3D printing that exact specification. There was no word on when HoloLens will launch and how much it will cost, but Microsoft promised that it will be ready for the public launch of Windows 10.
Cortana is warping to the PC

That's right, Windows 10 will see the spread of Cortana, Microsoft's Siri and Google Now competitor, into all versions of the new OS, including desktops, laptops and tablets. Microsoft's Joe Belfiore showed off the new PC-centric features within Cortana during its January 21 reveal event.

Namely, Redmond developed PC-specific functions into Cortana for easier access to files, apps and more. Belfiore demonstrated colloquial queries like, "Show me photos from December," to which Cortana summoned images within that time period immediately. The idea here is to make key pain points in interacting with a PC easier than before through voice.
Microsoft's Universal approach

During its January 21 reveal event, Microsoft's Joe Belfiore revealed exactly what the company meant by "Universal apps" when it first showed off Windows 10. Basically, the company is developing special versions of its key apps, like Office, for Windows 10 phones and tablets under 8 inches.

Apps like Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook will look and feel nearly identical to their desktop counterparts, but be optimized for touch and screen size. And through Microsoft's cloud infrastructure, all of your files will be accessible through those devices regardless of where it was created.

Belfiore also detailed a brand new photos app accessible from any Windows 10 device, pulling down images from the company's OneDrive storage service. The new app aggregates images from both local and cloud storage, eliminating duplicates and enhancing photos automatically.

Finally, the universal photos app will also automatically create photo albums based on not only when and where photos were taken, but the subjects of those photos. The idea here is for managing photos to be simpler and more automated, taking things a few steps further than rival solutions.

Following the January 21 event, Microsoft went on to confirm that its most important suite of Universal apps, Office 2016, will launch in the second half of 2015. This potentially puts Office 2016 ahead of Windows 10 in terms of release.

Keeping in touch

During the January 21 event, Belfiore demonstrated its "continuum" approach to computing with Windows 10 – not just through different devices, but 2-in-1 products as well. Using a Surface Pro 3, the OS chief showed off what it will be like changing use cases on a Windows 10 device.

When the tablet was connected to its keyboard cover, the Surface Pro 3 acted as if it were a laptop, which it technically is. Then, as soon as Belfiore removed the keyboard, a small icon appeared in the lower right of the screen, asking him whether he'd like to activate tablet mode.

Doing so changed all of the apps to full screen, made icons slightly larger and allowed users to access the Start screen a la Windows 8, albeit much updated. As soon as he reconnected the keyboard, the device offered to revert back to its original mode, which then repositioned and resized the windows and icons as they were.
This ... is ... Spartan (browser)!

Belfiore went on to detail Project Spartan, the company's revamp of Internet Explorer, during the January 21 reveal event. He detailed unique features, like the ability to mark up webpages before sharing them with others, and to comment on those same pages at the software level.

Once pages are marked up with drawings and comments, that page is frozen in time with live links and open for sharing through Windows 10's built-in sharing features. Spartan will also support built-in offline reading and PDF support, not to mention Cortana.

Microsoft's virtual assistant will be baked into Spartan and pop in with recommendations and help based on your browser behavior. Belfiore in particular demoed a scenario in which a user is en route to a flight. Upon opening the browser to find flight data, Cortana will pop in with that info before the user even needs to look it up.

Since the big reveal, Microsoft's Group Program Manager for Internet Explorer, Jason Weber, confirmed one big question: Spartan is not a replacement for Internet Explorer, but rather a second browser. Weber went on to explain that, while his team is heavily focused on making Spartan work with the rest of the web, IE11 will be kept for compatibility with legacy and enterprise websites.

Most recently, Microsoft's @IE Dev Chat account on Twitter confirmed that the Project Spartan team is working on bringing extension support to the new browser. Furthermore, Microsoft confirmed to The Verge that the team is also working on a way for users to import Chrome extensions directly to Spartan.

You shall not pass(word)

Microsoft has announced that it is adding support for the Fast Identity Online (Fido) standard to Windows 10, which should allow it to introduce the ability to sign into applications without using a password.

According to Microsoft, Windows 10 will bake standards-based two-factor authentication into every device which will "effectively neutering most phishing attacks and password database breaches". At its most basic level, the feature will allow PC, tablet or phone users to enroll their devices as trusted for authentication. Laters, passwords - it was nice knowing you.
Windows 10 and Xbox unite

For an interesting, forward-looking projections and reactions to the gaming announcements on January 21, check out Jake Muncy's take right here.

Microsoft's Xbox lead Phil Spencer took the stage during Microsoft's big January 21 event, detailing the Xbox app on Windows 10. The app collects all games played on any Xbox or Windows 10 device, a universal friends list and an activity feed. Every Windows 10 device will have the Xbox app pre-loaded.

Users will be able to record game sessions through the Game DVR tool and share them across the Xbox network. Essentially, Windows 10 will bring the automated recording featured in Xbox One to games played on Windows 10 – even those launched through other apps, like Steam.

Spencer also briefly showed off Microsoft's next collection of graphics and gaming APIs, DirectX 12. Namely, support for the platform expanded to the Unity game engine, and DX12 enables low-power graphics processing for Windows 10 mobile devices.

Plus, Spencer and a Lionhead Studios representative demoed what it's like to play the same game through a Windows 10 PC and an Xbox One with friends at the same time. Basically, cross-platform multiplayer gaming is coming to Xbox One and Windows 10.

Finally, Spencer demoed the ability to stream any Xbox One game to any Windows 10 device from within the home over Wi-Fi. The Xbox lead also teased that several Windows 10 features will find their way onto Xbox One, but was mum on the details.

Paving the way for enterprise

The crux of the September 30, 2014 event was to speak to enterprise users and get it in front of them first. "Windows 10 is a very novel approach of separating corporate and personal data across all devices," Myerson said on stage. "Windows 10 is going to be our greatest enterprise platform, ever."

Microsoft didn't exactly please its enterprise audience with Windows 8.1 – adoption has been awfully slow. (And now will likely halt with this new version on the horizon.) To that end, Belfiore even noted that the company is "looking to find the balance, so that all the Windows 7 users get a familiar experience on the devices they already have."

As of early February, Microsoft issued its plans for rolling out Windows 10 to enterprise users: through Windows Software Assurance program. While this program will offer several methods for enterprise users to upgrade their fleets of systems to the new OS, that also means it will not come free like it does for consumer versions of Windows 10.

The SA program is designed to give enterprise customers more control over when and how updates are pushed to their range of machines. Of course, the idea here is a focus on security and flexibility for IT through additional Long Term Servicing branches that provide security and critical updates only – barring new feature updates.
Phoning in features

Shortly after the initial Windows 10 reveal back in September 2014, Microsoft released a fresh feature to the Windows 10 Technical Preview, but on that's not new to Windows Phone: notifications. Known as the Action Center on Windows Phone 8.1, Notifications on Windows 10 operate in much the same way.

Featured as a button on the task bar, Notifications collects alert data from plenty of sources. "You'll see notifications from the system and apps - from new emails and invites to IMs, Facebook posts and more - all in one place, so you don't miss a thing," Microsoft Director of Windows Program Management Gabe Aul wrote in a blog post.

Speaking of new features, Microsoft's Joe Belfiore teased new trackpad gestures that will come to Windows 10 during his TechEd Europe keynote in October 2014. Much similar to the gestures that Mac users are used to, the new OS will soon respond to three-finger swipes in three directions.

Swiping downward with three fingers will return you to the desktop from within any app, while an upward gesture will summon the new task view. Swiping with three fingers either to the left or right will switch between open apps. Users will also be able to resize snapped windows with a unique three-finger gesture.

Most recently, some striking similarities were found between Microsoft's Skype integration into the Windows 10 messaging platform and Apple's iMessage system. Basically, Skype will serve as an intermediary for SMS and other text message formats, taking those messages and storing them for access on any Windows 10 device. However, Apple's solution is bound to Apple devices, while Skype is available on just about any mobile or computing platform.

Shooting for security

Running the world's most ubiquitous OS, Microsoft has always taken security quite seriously, often releasing patches daily to its various versions of Windows. Now, the company looks to take its security measures for Windows 10, with two-factor authentication (2FA) coming standard on enterprise versions of the OS, the company announced during its September 30, 2014 reveal.

Microsoft also intends to protect user identities by storing user access tokens in a secure container that runs on top of Hyper-V technology, isolated from the rest of the OS. Windows 10 will also offer a data loss prevention solution that will allow users to separate their corporate personae from their non-work ones.

... and for your data?

Short after the release of the Windows 10 WTP, the OS was pegged for collecting user data. While this is a beta preview, and as such should be collecting feedback data, claims from a number of news outlets pointed to more even more sensitive information.

The Technical Preview reportedly has the capability to track and log keystrokes, capture voice data and more. This may be cause for caution, but keep in mind that almost all, if not all, modern operating systems track and log some level of usage data. Though, it's almost always anonymized.
It's still all about unity

Windows 10 will be "one application platform" for all the devices that run Windows, Microsoft Windows head Terry Myerson declared during the September 30, 2014 reveal, with one store to rule them all. (So to speak.)

While on stage at the event, Microsoft showed images of the new operating system running on everything from desktop PCs to smartphones. In fact, Myerson confirmed that Windows 10 will be the driving OS behind its smartphone platform as well.

Myerson was mum on the naming conventions (e.g. whether Windows 10 on phones would be known as Windows Phone 10, et. al). But what matters is this: Windows 10 will be behind every device that Microsoft has a hand in.

Yes, that includes the Internet of Things

Based on CEO Satya Nadella's recent comments during Gartner's Symposium ITxpo in October 2014, Windows 10 is almost certainly being developed with the Internet of Things in mind.

"Windows 10 is a very important step for us." Nadella said on stage. "It's the first step in a new generation of Windows as opposed to just another release after Windows 8. General purpose computing is going to run on 200 plus billion sensors. We've architected Windows where it can run on everything."
The Start menu: bigger, better, stronger

The return of the Start menu that Microsoft teased during its Build 2014 conference earlier in 2014 was shown off in full force at the September 30, 2014 event. Replete with a merging of the traditional Windows 7-style interface and Windows 8 Live Tiles, the new Start menu is designed to please both camps: touch and mouse users.

"They don't have to learn any new way to drive," Belfiore said, referring to Windows 7 business users. That said, customization will also be featured throughout, first with the ability to resizing the Start menu itself along with the Live Tiles within.

The Start menu features empowered search capabilities as well, able to crawl your entire machine, not to mention web results. (Through Bing and not Google, we'd imagine.)

Click on through for a detailed look at the rumors and leaks leading up to the first and second Windows 10 announcements. On the third page, we projected what Windows 9 – err – Windows 10 would be like, or at least what we had hoped. Read on to see how much we got right.
Right up until September 30th, the rumor mill churned with tidbits of info regarding what we all expected would be called Windows 9. What follows is our collection and informed opinions on all the rumors and leaks leading up to the unveiling of Windows 10. Enjoy!

Despite rumors of an aggressive development and shipping schedule, there's no official word about what's in the next version of Windows, but there are plenty of rumors (many of them from Chinese enthusiast sites that claim to have leaked builds), plus more reliable information from job postings for the Windows and Windows Phone teams.

There are also patents, which may or may not be relevant, and some rare comments from developers on the Windows team. Here's what we've heard about Windows 9 and what we think is happening.

While just a codename, Windows 9 was referenced by Microsoft in a job posting, spotted by MSFT Kitchenon March 13, 2013 and a senior Microsoft VP let the name slip during a live-stream presentation.

The next complete version of Windows was being referred to as Windows 9 (though this obviously changed). And a new codename appeared, Threshold, possibly alluding to the shift from our reliance on the traditional desktop to a new world where the Start screen is at the heart of how we use Windows.

The term "Windows TH" (possibly for Threshold) appeared on Microsoft's website, referring to a technical preview, before being removed, just days before the September 30, 2014 event.

The ad, for a Bing Software Development Engineer, said that the team will be delivering products "in areas including Windows 9, IE11 services integration, touch friendly devices including iPad and more."

Windows 9 release date

W expected to see Windows 9 (!!!) in a preview build (otherwise known as Windows Technical Preview) to appear on September 30. Reports from The Verge and Recode cited sources close to the matter with knowledge that a press preview event would take place on that date.

Recode's Ina Fried said that the event - geared towards developers and an enterprise audience - would take place in San Francisco with our own sources confirming that invites went to relevant media houses and tech analysts.

Microsoft confirmed that it wouldn't live stream the event. The company sent a statement to Winbeta.org stating that "There will be no live stream of the keynote" although one can expect news and content to be posted across all of Microsoft's MSDN blogs.

Microsoft communications chief Frank Shaw said the company wasn't ready to talk about how often Windows might come out when we spoke to him in January 2014, but he agreed "you have certainly seen across a variety of our products a cadence that looks like that; Windows Phone is a good for example of that, our services are a good example of that."

We didn't know if Windows 9 would be available as an upgrade from Windows 7 that you can buy as a standalone product or if you'll have to have Windows 8 to get the upgrade.

Some rumors suggested late 2014 or early 2015 for a Windows 9 release, though the former seems wide of the mark. While claims and reports are all over the place, it seemed like Windows 9 should drop before September 2015 at the latest to coincide with the back-to-school season and in time for the lucrative holidays season.

In January 2014, well-known Microsoft blogger Paul Thurrott said he believed the company plans to release Windows 9 (codenamed Threshold) in April 2015, less than three years after Windows 8.

The thinking appears to be that the Windows 8 name is now too tarnished and that – in contrast to Reller's comments above – Microsoft wishes to clear things out by releasing Windows 9 instead.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley echoed these reports, citing sources pointing toward a spring 2015 release for Windows 9.

In May 2014, prolific Microsoft leaker FaiKee released two separate documents that he or she claimed to be Redmond's full roadmap for Windows 9 and other products. The first of which, released to the My Digital Life forums, pointed to text reading "Windows 9 Windows Preview Release @ 2015 02-03."

That appears to point toward a preview release of either February or March 2015. The second leak was caught by Myce.com, and is a bit more vague in timing but less so in the actual text. That alleged official document detailed a preview release between Q2 and Q3 2015, so by September of next year at the latest.

In June 2014, we learned from a ZDNet source that Microsoft would launch a preview build of the latest Windows in the fall. But WZOR struck again with a rumor that Windows 9 in full will launch in that same time frame. Naturally, a Microsoft representative snapped back at the rumor on Twitter.

How much will Windows 9 cost?

Not a cent. At least that's what Russian leaker collective WZOR claimed to have heard. The group reported that Microsoft is considering pushing out Windows 9 for free, but cannot confirm at this time. They also mentioned that upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 9 would cost you about $30 or £20, which is sounds pretty reasonable.

What the collective has heard exactly is that a prototype version is in the works in which a barebone version of Windows 9 will be available for free. For additional functionality, users would have to pay up through a subscription.

That said, ZDNet's Foley heard the opposite: different SKUs of Windows will be offered for free or at different prices to OEMs and consumers, but that the desktop version will indeed have a sticker price. A subsequent leak provided by WZOR seemed to not only corroborate Foley's sources, but render its previous report moot.

Microsoft has learned to be flexible though given the changing business environment. Google's Chrome OS was barely a blip on Microsoft's radar when Windows 8 launched. Now it is seen as a growing threat to Microsoft's low-end market, so much so that it is giving Windows 8.1 for free on devices sporting an 8-inch (or smaller) display.

It was very likely that Microsoft would do the same for Windows 9 (although it could also choose to keep Windows 9 as a premium SKU). Last but not least, the president of Microsoft Indonesia had inadvertently disclosed that Windows 9 would be free for Windows 8 users.

A new kind of device from Microsoft?

Ahead of the recent January 21 event, three separate reports led us to believe that January 21 was going to be a bigger day for Windows than any of us could have imagined. First, the recent appearance of a "Phone Insider" app on the Windows Phone store sparked speculation (and claims by The Verge sources) that January 21 would be when Microsoft pulled the curtain back on Windows Phone 10, or whatever it ends up being called.

According to The Verge, the Phone Insider app only allows access to the preview build for employees, but that's expected to change after this event. Windows fans would soon have plenty of places to preview the upcoming OS, it seemed.

Recently, The Information reported that Microsoft could also introduce a new piece of hardware at the event – this time a laptop-phone hybrid product, similar to the Asus Padfone X. The idea would be to display the seamless nature of Windows 10 across platforms from its single codebase to a unified app store.

Microsoft playing to the pirates

It was found in Build #9860 that Microsoft introduced support for the MKV video container to Windows 10. This also just so happens to be one of the most popular ways to distribute pirated media online. (Of course, we're sure this wasn't the point.) While often referred to as a codec, MKV is actually merely a format that contains content rendered using other codecs, often H.264.

So, what does this mean for this plucky new OS? MKV is just one of several file formats that will be supported by Windows 10 from day one. Others include FLAC and HEVC, so expect Windows 10 to be fully prepared for our 4K video and lossless audio future.

Will Windows 9 focus heavily on cloud computing? What is Bing's role in the new OS? How much of a power drain will this new version be? We know about as much as these leakers and reporters claim, but have collected all the latest rumors and scuttlebutt below.

Cortana: your new best friend?

Microsoft's answer to Siri and Google Now just busted out the gate on Windows Phone 8.1, but already Microsoft seems keen on expanding its reach to the company's desktop and tablet OS. Microsoft scoopers at Neowin seem to have inside sources that claim Cortana is not only up and running on internal Windows 9 builds, but its performance is improving.

Charms lose their luster

Could one of the more controversial additions to Windows 8.1 be on its way out? Paul Thurrott's points to the fact that it is still there in the latest build to date, 9841. Earlier rumours were at loggerheads with Thurrott's findings. A leak snapped up by Winbeta claims that the Charms menu of the current OS will not be included in the desktop and laptop versions of Windows 9. And, according to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, the feature is on the chopping block for Windows 9 tablets and 2-in-1 laptops as well.

One Windows 9 to rule them all

Not so much a rumor as it is a confirmation, newly-minted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella commented on the future of Windows recently, painting a picture of a unified operating system across all platforms.

"In the past we had multiple teams working on different versions of Windows," Nadella said. "Now we have one team with a common architecture. This allows us to scale, create Universal Windows Apps."

So, will Windows 9 spur the beginning of a single OS for all Microsoft devices, ultimately ending the fragmentation between Windows Phone, Windows RT and Windows proper? We can only hope.

It is worth however considering what Apple and Google are doing when it comes with their mobile and desktop offerings. Apple has subtly started to integrate some aspects of iOS, like Mac App Store, into OS X while Google already confirmed years ago that it would be merging Android and Chrome OS at some point.

Windows 9: Return of the Start Menu

Teased during the Build 2014 keynote address, the long-missed Start is basically guaranteed to make its return in Windows 9. Since that preview of the Start menu, replete with both Desktop and Modern UI elements, a screenshot (seen below) of an updated version of the feature has surfaced – ba-dum, chhh – through the MyDigitalLife forums.

Regardless of whether the snap is legit, since Microsoft has publicly promised the return of the Start menu, it should be safe to expect its debut in Windows 9 ... whenever that is. Subsequent leaks, the latest being from Winsupersite, confirm the fact that a new version of the Start menu will be back.
Truly windowed Modern UI apps are coming

We already know that the new Start menu will be alive and well in Windows 9, but the latest leak points to yet another quality-of-life improvement: truly windowed Modern UI apps. Today, Modern UI apps can be opened and managed from the desktop UI, but immediately switch to that interface when selected.

No more, claims Myce through a newly-leaked screenshot (seen below). The image, allegedly pulled from Threshold build # 9795, shows a Metro, or Modern UI, app opened in a windowed state on the (likely) Windows 9 desktop.

Machine learning is the future of Windows?

That's at least what Microsoft Research lead Peter Lee wants out of Windows 9. He said as much in an in-depth interview with Digital Trends recently, pointing to Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform and Bing to hopefully be the drivers behind the next versions of Windows.

"Using machine learning to extract relationships, entities, key ideas being worked on and bring those to the surface in tools. Maybe even digital-assistant tools to make companies more productive and smarter. That's one area we're going at" for Windows 9, Lee said.

"If I write a document and I want to say, share this with the appropriate people that work with Vikram from the meeting, or say, 'what's trending around me at work,' not in my personal space but at work … answering questions like that requires a very different kind of machine learning," he said.

Windows 9 to be smaller, with more apps

In the last Microsoft earnings call CFO Peter Klein made it clear that Microsoft has got the message that Windows 8 tablets need to be cheaper; "we know that our growth depends on our ability to give customers the exciting hardware they want, at the price-points they demand."

Another revealing Microsoft job advert talks about having Windows Phone and Windows RT apps run on both Windows Phone and Windows – it's no secret that Microsoft wants to unify things in this area.

"Do you wish the code you write for Windows Store apps would just work on the Windows Phone and vice versa? If so, then this is the role for you! We are the team leading the charge to bring much of the WinRT API surface and the .NET Windows Store profile to the Phone."

That sounds like a longer term goal, given that the job advert was on the Microsoft Careers site at the beginning of February 2012, and it's being driven by the Windows Phone team, but it could give developers an incentive to write apps for the Windows Store and give Windows 9 users more to choose from. Scaling apps to fit different size screens would help here too.

Windows 9 reaches for the cloud

A vision for a smaller version of Windows with more apps sounds like it lines up nicely with rumors that Windows 9 will focus heavily on cloud computing. WZOR claims to have information that supports this idea, pointing toward a Chrome OS-like operating system that requires an internet connection.

According to the leaker group, the core of Windows 9 will live in the given system's BIOS, while the rest of the OS will reside in the cloud, ready for picking via various apps and services. Exactly how much of the standard Windows functions would be left out is what's worrying about this rumor.

Reports have also highlighted some fundamental changes in the way developers within Microsoft are assessing, coding, deploying and actually fixing Windows 9. Of particular interest is the way Microsoft is now considering Windows-as-a-service rather than a project with fixed deadlines, in the traditional start-stop development process. Another intriguing rumour is Asimov, a name that has been floated around and refers to a near real-time Telemetry service that allows Microsoft to peer into your system, a remote desktop connection on steroids.

Windows 9 power management

Back in January 2013, a Channel 9 video featuring Bruce Worthington, who leads the team working on Windows power management fundamentals, included some rather technical details about saving power in Windows and the improvement in Windows 8.

"If you look at the number of times we would wake up the CPU per second," he explained, "for Windows 7 you would typically see numbers on the order of one millisecond. We would literally be waking up the CPU a thousand times per second. If you look at Windows 8, on a clean system, we have numbers that are better than a hundred milliseconds. "

Now that Windows Phone 8 is based on the Windows Phone kernel, power management has to get better. "Now we're looking forward to the next release and we can get even farther – especially as we start interacting more and more with our phone brethren.

"They want us to be quiet for multiple seconds at a time. They even talk about minutes in some scenarios which is pretty far afield for us, to be thinking about minutes of being completely quiet. At least getting into the multi-second we're definitely ready to think about that."

Especially with Intel Haswell bringing Connected Standby to Core systems, not just low-power Atom tablets, saving power looks like a priority for Windows 9 (especially if it comes out at the same time as Intel's new chips.

"For the next release there's all kinds of things we've already identified that are going be quite challenging but at the same time the user is going to get a tremendous boost forward," Worthington promised.

Windows 9 gestures and experiences

There are features we predicted for Windows 8 based on Microsoft patents and technologies we've seen demonstrated by Microsoft leaders like CTO Craig Mundie that didn't make it into the OS. There are features Microsoft plans for every version of Windows that get cut to ship on time; sometimes they reappear, sometimes they don't.

Kinect-based 3D gestures might be on the cards this time around, especially as we hear that some notebooks will soon get 3D cameras – although from other suppliers rather than Microsoft.

Using two cheap webcams rather than an expensive 3D camera could make gesture recognition hardware cheap enough for laptops and then you could wave at the screen from a distance.

And maybe Direct Experience will arrive in Windows 9. The patent explains this as a way of starting Windows to play media files in a special purpose operating system and there are improvements in Hyper-V for Windows Server 8 that Microsoft could use to make Windows 9 work better for this, like being able to move a virtual machine from one place to another while it's running.
One obvious question is whether Windows 9 will be 64-bit only – something that Microsoft alluded to even before Windows 7 shipped – but that's going to depend on what chips are in PCs. Given that even lowly Atom processors are now 64-bit capable, it would make sense for Microsoft to go full 64-bit.

On that note, perhaps a sign of things to come but Microsoft has resurrected WinHEC, a hardware-focused event centered around Windows, that was canned six years ago. The event will be held in Shenzhen China next year and is a clear sign that Microsoft wants to reconnect with a community that it now considers to be pivotal to its success. No surprise then that it substituted the original C for "conference" in WinHEC for "community".