A leaked build of the next version of Windows 8 made the rounds this week, along with news of related updates for Windows Phone 8, Windows Server 2012, and Windows RT. And what I’ve learned from the leak won’t please anyone who already isn’t a fan of the Metro stuff. It appears that Microsoft’s secret plan for Windows 8 is . . . to pile on more of what you don’t like about Windows 8.
While I recognize the craziness of Windows 8’s dual—or dueling, as I call it—user interfaces, I also happen to like Microsoft’s newest desktop OS quite a bit. But given the feedback I’ve received, I’m also in the minority on that one, at least in the tech enthusiast and IT pro circles in which I travel. Most can’t stand that Microsoft has blended two OSs—the classic Windows desktop and the “modern” Metro—into one, and many are especially upset about the removal of suddenly beloved interfaces such as the Start button and Start menu, both of which date back to 1995.
But wait, there’s hope.
When Microsoft said it was reimagining Windows with Windows 8, the company wasn’t kidding. This OS, along with related familial releases such as Windows Phone 8, Windows Server 2012, and Windows RT, will not be updated on the old schedule, in which we received a new version of the OS every three years or so (except for Phone, which has been once a year) and interim updates—sometimes in the form of service packs—in between.
For this Windows 8 wave of products, Microsoft is instead adopting an online services-type update schedule, much as it has for Visual Studio, Office, Office 365, Exchange 2013, Azure, and other products. And under this new schedule, these systems can be improved with minor updates over time—like new bundled app versions and various cumulative updates—and a semi-major update once a year. That semi-major update? It’s codenamed “Blue,” and there is a Blue version for all of the Windows 8 wave of products in the works, each of which is due roughly one year after the initial release.
What leaked this week is a 32-bit version of Windows 8 “Blue,” build 9364. (By comparison, the RTM version of Windows 8 was build 9200.) And it appears to be exactly what I thought it would be: a combination feature pack/service pack that adds both new features and bug fixes.
I suspect I’ve not lost anyone yet. But the issue you might have with Windows 8 “Blue” is that those new features all seem to come on the Metro side of the fence. And many of them are designed to reduce user reliance on the desktop, particularly the Control Panel interfaces.
If you’re familiar with Windows 8 today, you might know that there is a new Metro-style alternative to Control Panel called PC Settings. This interface can’t replace Control Panel, per se, because there are too many Control Panel settings that simply don’t appear anywhere in PC Settings. But in Blue, the number of settings in PC Settings is expanding dramatically. Not quite a Control Panel replacement, yet, but clearly heading in that direction.
And this leads me to a bit of speculation that won’t please some people. Despite Microsoft’s public protestations to the contrary—the company simply loves the Windows desktop, it insists—I feel that the firm is moving to a future in which Windows—perhaps Windows RT first, but eventually mainstream x86/x64 versions too—makes the desktop optional, off by default, and then unavailable entirely. It probably won’t happen in what I think of as Windows 9—that is, a major revision to Windows 8 that might ship in 2015-ish—but it could happen in the next major release of Windows RT (alongside Windows 9). Windows 10? It’s not hard to imagine.
Put simply, if you are less than enthusiastic about the Metro environment in Windows 8, “Blue” isn’t going to change your mind about this OS in the slightest. That said, it’s possible that future Blue builds, including some presumed public preview, will also include desktop updates. Cross your fingers.
I’m also very curious about the Blue updates for Windows Phone 8, Windows Server 2013, and Windows RT. I’ve not seen any of these updates yet, but reports suggest there are some interesting changes coming. The Windows RT version is easily understood: It will closely mirror Windows 8 Blue, just as Windows RT today closely mirrors Windows 8. But what about the other two OSs?
According to Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet, Windows Server Blue will arrive alongside Windows 8/RT Blue in late summer/early autumn. And while there’s no word yet on actual features, she reports that it will make “Windows Server the best platform for building cloud services for both Microsoft customers and partners, and for Microsoft itself . . . the supposed plan, going forward, will be to deliver, annually, new server features that matter most to those building and deploying in the cloud.”
Windows Phone 8 Blue will arrive afterward, which makes sense when you consider Windows Phone was already on an annual update schedule, and that each release comes roughly around early November. We have heard separately that this coming update will bring Windows Phone 8 even closer to Windows 8 from usability and developer perspectives, but again, little in the way of specifics.
As far as I’m concerned, Microsoft’s plan to update its Windows 8 wave of products more quickly is the right one. But looking at the leaked build of Windows 8 Blue, I can see that the Metro doubters aren’t going to be appeased by what’s there so far. And the notion that any company would deploy Windows 8 because of those changes? Absolutely fantastical.