'Virtual Desktop' Feature Reportedly Coming to Windows 9

The next version of Windows could have a new "virtual desktops" feature, according to reports this week.

Windows "Threshold" is presumed to be the Microsoft code name for the next Windows release, which many are also calling "Windows 9." Officially, Microsoft has not confirmed that it is working on Windows 9; much of the information about it comes from reporters, citing unnamed sources, so the claims are still at the rumor stage.

If true, the virtual desktops feature for Windows 9 won't be some new desktop virtualization scheme, apparently. Windows 8/8.1 already has the capability of running a virtual machine atop the host operating system using Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor. Instead, the virtual desktops feature will be a kind of sliding user interface that lets the user switch from one screen view to the next. The Linux-based Ubuntu client OS has long had such a capability.

Next, it's rumored that Microsoft plans to kill off its Charms Bar -- at least on the Desktop side of Windows 9. The Charms Bar currently appears on the right side of the home screen in Windows 8/8.1 OSes. It allows quick access to search, share and settings functions, among other things. According to the new rumors, Charms instead will appear in a title bar of Windows Store Apps in the new Windows 9 OS. That notion comes from veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley, who also compiled other reporters' rumors about Windows 9.

"The goal with Threshold is to make Windows 9 more palatable for those still using Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, especially business users and those who aren't relying solely on touch for input," Foley explained, regarding the rumored Windows 9 improvements.

Microsoft so far has only talked about bringing a new Start Menu with the Threshold release.

Business Adoption Lags
Getting businesses to love Windows 8 has been a tough sell so far. Microsoft seems to have a problem moving business users from Windows 7. That situation could lead to a whole new cycle in which organizations stick with the Windows 7 OS for years, just as they once did with the venerable (but now unsupported) Windows XP.

"When Threshold details come out, we'll see how the product is received," commented Michael A. Silver, research vice president for endpoint computing at Gartner Inc., in a Thursday e-mail. "However, Windows 7 is a fine OS and there's a significant chance that organizations will not see sufficient value in Threshold to motivate them to upgrade. At that point, they will be in danger of running Windows 7 past its end of support date in 2020, as they ran XP beyond April 2014, with the same security concerns. At the very least, Microsoft has to make it easy enough and valuable enough for organizations to bring Threshold in on new PCs, so they start eliminating Windows 7."

The adoption of Windows 8/8.1 has not been on an upward curve in the past few months, at least per data compiled by Net Applications. The slow adoption hasn't been a surprise to Gartner, nor to analyst and consulting firm IDC, at least on the business side.

"[It's] not surprising that Windows 8.1 [adoption] is sluggish," said Al Gillen, program vice president for servers and system software at IDC, in an e-mail. "The corporate users are largely bypassing it, so it is only consumer devices that are propping up the Windows 8 sales."

IDC had strongly recommended that its clients move from Windows XP to Windows 7, not to Windows 8.

"If a customer is lagging behind and still using Windows XP, the likelihood that they will gain benefit from a move direct to Windows 8 is low," Gillen said. "Plus app compatibility is going to be better with Windows XP to Windows 7 migrations."

Microsoft may have unintentionally thrown its business users for a loop with Windows 8, according to Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, which is an independent Kirkland, Wash.-based consultancy.

"Microsoft's single-minded focus on touch and tablets [in Windows 8] resulted in customers -- enterprises in particular -- perceiving it as such," Miller said via e-mail. "As a result, most migrations we're seeing are to [Windows] 7, or wait and see what comes next."

Microsoft possibly may be coming to grips with the dual-sided user experience of Windows 8 as it builds out Windows 9, Miller speculated. The Windows 8 OS has a traditional Desktop side and a new Windows Store Apps ("Metro") side that some traditional desktop users have found disconcerting.

"What I see in the leaks about Windows 9 seems to be an OS that acknowledges that it has two roles to serve," Miller said. "One [is] touch-centric, on touch-enabled devices, where the desktop is an afterthought (or perhaps disappears entirely). The other is the legacy of 20+ years of Windows desktop productivity. Windows 8 didn't just ignore the desktop -- it really shoved it into the corner."

Miller is currently seeing most business customers using Windows 7, with some clinging "dangerously" to Windows XP.

"A lot of what Microsoft delivers with Windows 9 will determine whether and how these customers continue to invest in future versions of the OS," Miller added.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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