Microsoft is holding an event in San Francisco later today (10AM PT, 6PM BST) that will give us some key pointers as to Microsoft's intentions for the next version of Windows.
It's designed as a developer event, so it won't be a formal launch of the new Windows. And the Windows enhancements we see today certainly won't be completely consumer-orientated, with the juicy stuff reserved for developers that Microsoft wants to get on side ahead of a full launch of the new OS.
What's in a name?
We're pretty certain the next version of Windows will be called Windows 9. We don't even think today's event will feature the name Windows 9, instead referring to the OS as Threshold or TH. Threshold is a long standing codename for the release, so is nothing new.
Indeed screen shots of a leaked version of the Windows Dev Center download site point to the OS being called Windows TH - though this just seems like a play on words with the name Threshold and we'd be very surprised if it ended up being called this. It will probably just be an interim moniker.
Any new name makes it clear that Microsoft wants to banish the disastrous Windows 8 phase as soon as possible.
So what will we see?
This event has been long rumored. We will see the new (old) Start Menu and other developments that will change the way you use Windows if you use Windows 8.
One of the key features of Windows 8 touch, the Charms bar, will no longer exist if you're on a non-touch PC. This will be a relief to some, but for many of us that have got used to how Windows 8 quirkily works on a non-touch PC, it will be another frustrating change.
The new Start Menu (which is resizable) combines what you used to get in the Start Menu from Windows 95-Windows 7 with a new side panel featuring Modern UI (Metro) apps.
According to a leak of the developer build, you can pin other desktop applications, folders and contacts to the Start Menu – so it acts rather like the Start Screen on Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 in that respect.
Some sources say the new Start Menu can replace the Start Screen in Threshold, but we're not too sure about that, and it may well depend on whether you're using a touch PC or not. Certainly the Start Screen would be the more preferable interface for use with a touch PC.
What will Windows 9 look like?
Cosmetically, we probably won't see a massive change at today's event. Indeed, what we'll see will look very similar to Windows 8. As we've seen with other pre-release versions of Windows, the developer preview version is not necessarily the look and feel that we will have when it comes to the final release.
Indeed, the preview versions often bear more resemblance to the previous version of Windows rather than the upcoming one. But as Windows 9 will continue the work done with the Modern UI in Windows 8 and 8.1, it may well end up looking very similar anyway.
Some graphical work has certainly been carried out on the developer preview – Modern UI apps can float in the desktop and have a new ellipsis icon for app-specific options in the top right of the window. This basically means that the two halves of the OS can operate as one, though the main problem with Modern UI apps remains their hugely variable quality (hence Microsoft wanting to woo developers)
Will there be a Windows 9 public beta?
Quite possibly, but not today. At the moment there will only be a Developer Preview version, so we're some way off a beta version, let alone a public beta or release candidate.
Windows 9 release date
It's certainly too early to say about a Windows 9 release date and we're not sure we'll get a huge amount of clarity on this at the event, but we'd expect Windows 9 launch in early to mid-2015. The Spring would seem like a good bet to us. Certainly Microsoft knows that the relative failure of Windows 8 (in perception, if not totally in terms of sales) means it can't afford to hang around.
I've heard Windows 9 will be a free upgrade. Will it be?
That's certainly the big Windows 9 rumor doing the rounds. President of Microsoft Indonesia Andreas Diantoro seemingly confirmed it in a statement. It would certainly encourage take-up of the new OS.
If Windows 9 is free it may only be for Windows 8 and 8.1 users only, although with Microsoft failing to dislodge the porridge-on-the-pan that is Windows XP, it may well go the whole hog and make it universally gratis.
And why not? Microsoft can afford it – the corporation's focus to software, devices and services means it aims to increasingly make money from sources other than the sales of its venerable desktop OS.
Windows 9 is completely backwards compatible with older versions of the OS and any Modern UI or desktop apps developed for Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 will work fine.
Will Microsoft do several versions OSes?
We may well see a version of Windows 9 called Windows 9 Pro or Windows 9 Enterprise. Certainly a lot of businesses have resisted Windows 8 because of the Start Screen (something Microsoft tried to rectify by the boot-to-desktop feature in 8.1 Update 1).
One thing the Windows 8 debacle has shown is that tablet and desktop aren't entirely compatible and Microsoft has strived to make Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Update 1 more non-touch friendly.
As we thought when Microsoft first released Windows 8, Microsoft should release a Tablet-specific OS, probably based on Windows Phone. It won't do this, as it still wants to sell you Microsoft Office for the desktop, while Intel still wants it to make 'proper' PCs. Instead, Windows 9 will bring a whole lot more refinement to the still-uneasy Modern UI-desktop hybrid.