Microsoft's forthcoming wave of Windows updates will streamline the OS and will even see the return of the much-missed Start menu, according to new reports.
Rumors that Redmond is planning a new round of updates to the various forms of its OS first surfaced last week, with ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley reporting that Microsoft will deliver a mass overhaul called "Threshold" that will bring significant changes to Windows, Windows RT, and Xbox One.
On Monday, Foley and fellow Microsoft-watcher Paul Thurrott both elaborated on those whispers, with each citing sources who claim the software giant will use Threshhold to address longstanding customer gripes with Windows 8.
According to Foley, this next round of updates – let's call it Windows 8.2, although no version number has been announced – will see Microsoft's OS consolidated into three versions, each aimed at a different market.
For starters, there will allegedly be a "modern" version of Windows that will be oriented around Windows Store apps, Redmond's touch-centric software model that debuted with Windows 8. This version will be similar to the current Windows RT OS that ships on Microsoft's ARM-based Surface tablets, but in its new incarnation it will span PCs, tablets, and phones, and it may run on the Intel chip architecture as well as ARM.
A second version of Windows will be aimed at customers who want a more traditional PC experience, Foley reports, with emphasis on the desktop and a UI designed for keyboards and mice
There will also be a third version that targets enterprise customers,
Foley's sources suggest. One difference with this version will be that instead of frequent, automatic updates delivered via the Windows Store, Microsoft will ship security fixes on a more predictable cadence to suit business IT admins.
The idea appears to be that Microsoft will tailor slightly different versions of its operating system for different audiences, rather than the one-size-fits-all approach it tried when it launched the touch-driven Windows 8.
Thurrott seems to agree with most of Foley's murmurings, but his own sources add that Redmond will also use the updates to address customer complaints about how Windows 8 works. For example, he claims, the so-called Windows 8.2 will allow users to run multiple Windows Store apps in windows on the desktop
, rather than being forced to run them full screen even on high-resolution monitors, as they must do now.
And in even bigger news, Thurrott said that he expects the next version of Windows to bring back the traditional Start menu as an option
, addressing what is perhaps customers' biggest gripe in much the same way that Windows 8.1 restored the ability to boot directly to the desktop. He added, however, that it's possible that this feature will only be available on versions of Windows that support the desktop, and not on the consumer-oriented, Windows Store–centric version.
How much credence do we give these rumors? It's always safest to be skeptical, but both Foley and Thurrott are seasoned Microsoft sleuths with reliable sources close to Redmond.
Even if these reports are accurate, however, there is still plenty of time for Microsoft's plans to change. Foley and Thurrott both agree that this next round of Windows updates isn't due to hit until 2015.