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What to Expect From Windows 9

When Microsoft unveils its next iteration of Windows, these are the design fixes you'll see.
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According to multiple sources, Microsoft plans to finally take the covers off Windows 9 at an event later next month, code-named Threshold, as an early tech preview. The new operating system will finally address several serious design flaws including the dreaded "charms" that appear on the side of the screen. It's good news for those who run a startup and don't often have the time, the inclination, or the money to spend on training new employees and dealing with all of the inevitable productivity hassles.

I first wrote about Windows 8 way back in January of 2013 and predicted how the operating system would fail to catch on with new computer users. At the time, I watched my wife, a few colleagues, and one of my kids struggle to do very basic tasks like shut the computer down, search for files, and adjust screen brightness. The "charms" for these tasks pop up when you move the mouse over to the side of the screen, but there's no way to know how to do that intuitively and no visual cues.

According to early reports, Windows 9 will come up with a new way to find these features and nix the whole charms interface entirely. One of the major design flaws had to do with the fact that Microsoft tried to make one OS that runs on desktop and laptop computers without a touchscreen and on tablets and notebooks with a touchscreen. But offering both concurrently made everyone more confused.

There were some serious design problems with the Start menu as well. Most of us have been (excuse the term) "programmed" to look for apps and settings when we click the Start button on the lower-lefthand corner. Heck, even Mac users have found the Start menu eventually. Today, when you click over on the left-hand corner, the screen flips over to a tile interface called Metro. It's like you want to start a car by pressing the engine start button, but instead that brings up a menu with more options.

Windows 9 will probably show a pop-up window with a few commonly used apps, the control panel I mentioned earlier, and a Shutdown button. Finally. I'm hoping the new menu lets you easily slide around some of these options and customize the look.

As a fan of the Halo video game, I'm also looking forward to the Cortana virtual assistant feature in Windows 9. Apart from the fact that she went a little nuts in the last Halo game, being able to speak to a computer or tablet and say more complex commands like "brighten my screen" or "save battery power" will (almost) make up for the last few years of dealing with multiple layers of confusion. (The companies that make the hardware, like HP and Dell, have added their own settings for common functions, which is not helpful.)

What else will Microsoft do to fix these design problems? The OS is already stable, already runs legacy apps just fine, already runs fast, and already fits well within the IT strategy for many companies that use Microsoft products in the back-end (e.g., Windows Server) and for knowledge workers (e.g., Microsoft Word). These design fixes could make Windows 9 a welcome release. That is, if the software giant doesn't introduce brand new problems.

Last updated: Aug 22, 2014

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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