Windows 9: Release date, beta, rumours, start menu, news and features

Update: Windows 9 condenamed 'Threshold', preview version this Autumn

Windows 8 launched back in October 2012, bringing with it a complete overhaul of the OS and incorporating Microsoft's Metro aesthetic. 19 months on and T3's eager to see what's next.

Windows 8 is nigh on two years old now, and we'll never forget the controversy that shipped with it. The tiled Metro design had Windows vets up in arms, and let's not even start on Microsoft's binning of the dearly beloved Start button.

Microsoft launched Windows 8.1 in October last year, bringing back the Start button (sort of) and plenty of other changes too. Despite this, fears of desktop users being nudged to the wayside in lieu of an touch-screen focused future still aren't quelled, and Microsoft's keen to move on from Windows 8 altogether.

Microsoft's BUILD conference took place earlier this year and brought with it a slew of fresh announcements, but unfortunately Windows 9 was nowhere to be seen.

Whilst there's no official confirmation on Windows 9 just yet, we're still excited about what's in store for Microsoft's flagship operating system. Here's our rumour round-up.

Windows 9: Release date

Update:Preview release expected Autumn 2014.

It's expected that Microsoft will release 3 versions of Windows 9 before the official public release. This will give Microsoft a chance to work out the kinks for a smooth release, to help avoid the PR blowback that came with Windows 8.

The same source suggests with some certainty that Microsoft is targetting an April 2015 release for the upcoming Windows 9 OS - that's just short of a three-year gap since Windows 8.

Windows 7 launched to the public in October 2009, putting three years and four days between it and Windows 8. Windows Vista was January 2007, so not quite three years. This all suggests an approximate three-year cycle for Windows operating systems is the norm, and so April 2015 isn't a bad bet. We'd put October 2015 at the extreme end of release estimates to be safe.

Another leak suggests a 2015 Q2-3 release, which falls in line with the April 2015 date. We're expecting a beta release in early 2015 at the very least.

Windows 9: Features

Update:Windows 9 codenamed 'Threshold', check it out:

The upcoming OS looks likely to drop Windows 8's multi-hued Metro theme that launched to widespread criticism in 2012, according toZDNet.

Instead, Microsoft is going to focus on a new 'Mini Start menu' that will look much more like pre-8 iterations of Windows. Metro isn't going to be completely abandoned though, with the new start menu set to incorporate Metro's live tiles and apps.

According to sources, 'Threshold' will be adapted for different types of device – mobile users will have a touch-optimised Windows, whereas desktop users will have a system much more similar to Windows 7, with a focus on keyboard-and-mouse input.

It seems as though Microsoft is trying its best to instil faith in desktop users again, after many Windows 8 users felt let down by the focus on touch-screen interaction.

Machine learning

Microsoft's Head of Research Peter Lee dropped some hints about Windows 9 during an interview with Digital Trends, although he remained stalwart in dodging actual confirmation of the upcoming OS.

Lee talked about how the future iterations of Windows will have a much greater focus on cloud-computing, and how Microsoft is working to make your desktop smarter through 'machine learning."

"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," says Lee.

The research lead thinks Bing is a great example of smart computing, which suggests that Windows 9 will take some hints from Microsoft's search engine.

“Bing tries to understand entities. When someone does a Bing search for 'Canon 4D' and they clickthe Canon Rebel link, we learn about those relationships. With enterprise there's similar issues but with much less data. The computer science ends up being different."

Lee thinks that machine learning is the future for Windows, and for businesses operating with Microsoft's flagship OS.

“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.

App unity

A Microsoft job posting back in February 2012 mentioned unifying Windows Phone apps and Windows desktop apps, giving a clue to the potential app ecosystem of Windows 9:

"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."

Power plans

Bruce Worthington, who heads up the team working on power management for Windows, talked tech in regards to saving power 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. "

Worthington says the team has to up their game for the next release, namely Windows 9, and talks about plans to save power in the upcoming OS.

"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."

...and more

TechRadar reports that 3D camera-based gesture control could be a feature of Windows 9, but we're not so sure. Microsoft seems to be ditching the Kinect in its Xbox One business plan, and it might not be a great idea to return to gesture control in the wake of the controversial decision.

It's also looking likely that Windows 9 will be 64-bit, compared to Windows 8 which shipped in 32- and 64-bit varieties. Of course, this is dependent on what sort of chips manufacturers like Intel decide to provide for the Windows devices.

Windows 9: Price

Leaks from a Russian source (WZOR) suggest that Windows 9 will be completely free, although the leakers seem keen to point out that nothing is confirmed so far and that this could just be referring to a prototype version of the OS.

Other sources reckon that Windows 9 will definitely ship with a price tag for the standard desktop edition, while manufacturers will get a different deal.

TrustedReviews reckons Windows 9 could operate on a subscription-based payment system, just like Microsoft's Office 365 model.

Windows 9: Appearance

Blogger Paul Thurrott thinks Microsoft will stick with the Metro aesthetic from Windows 8, but will improve it by "maturing and fixing" the design. A windowed OS that's desktop and touchscreen friendly is likely.

Some sources think the Start Menu will return full throttle, and will have the 8.1 Metro live tiles incorporated into its design. This added functionality could come as part of a future Windows 8 update, but it's a good base for understanding the direction Microsoft wants to take for the Windows 9 aesthetic.