If I were an avid fan of Sherlock Holmes (which I am, btw), I'd be piecing together some recently released Microsoft collateral and bold rumors to get a clear view of what the company is planning for the future of Windows. And, not just in the short term, with the rumored release of Windows 8.1 Update 1 in March, but for the long term, as Windows 9 is envisioned and developed.
Let's walk down the trail of clues to see if your command of deduction is as powerful as mine.
Clue #1: Paper Trail
A short time ago, Microsoft released an updated guide for Windows 8.1 that was heavy on desktop usage. You can still grab the guide from the information supplied here: Microsoft released a Desktop-oriented guide for Windows 8.1. Subsequently, they also provided the raw files so Enterprises could customize the guide and enjoy the ability to print them out on reams of paper.
Clue #2: Follow the Money
A short while later, a post showed up on the Windows Experience blog, giving readers 5 tweaks they could perform on Windows 8.1 that would, basically, make the Microsoft's most current OS work more like Windows 7. The tweaks included things like booting directly to the desktop, pinning apps to the taskbar, synching backgrounds between the desktop and the Start screen, and altering IE11 so that is always runs in desktop mode.
Obviously, Windows 8 was not accepted en masse by businesses like Microsoft hoped. Truth told, I don't know what they were thinking. Windows 8 was developed strictly for a consumer market enamored with touching things. No matter how many ways you slice it, dice it, or angle it, the first release of Windows 8 was Microsoft's biggest "oops" moment in its OS history. Some could argue that it was Vista, but at least Vista still provided business value, Windows 8 did not. Microsoft was hoping Windows 8 would reinvigorate the market, save the PC and device industry, and generate revenue. None of that happened. Instead, they forgot about an entire segment of the revenue stream.
So, it seems, based on the collateral and content, Microsoft is sorry. And, now, over the past couple days new rumors have surfaced about what Windows 8.1 Update 1 will provide, and those rumors fit neatly into the progressing story that Microsoft is steadily preparing the public for an OS upgrade intended to help bring the company back into Enterprise's good graces.
Clue #3: A Semi-Formal Apology?
The first rumor was first seen at The Verge, one of a few web site famous for two sentences and a title. This rumor suggest that when Windows 8.1 Update 1 releases, the upgrade may turn on booting to the desktop by default. Mary Jo Foley seems to believe this may not actually happen and could be changed by the time the update hits RTM. I'm on Mary Jo's side for this one. There are many things Microsoft can do to enable customer choice and architect the update so it can discover the user's preference.
The first thing is pretty simple. Just ask. When the update is applied, throw up a dialog box that asks the user which they prefer and then set the preference during installation. The other, is still pretty simple, but would take a bit more ingenuity. Long ago, Microsoft developed the WMI repository which is Microsoft's implementation of the WBEM industry standard for device data collection. WMI contains just about every piece of information about the device it's housed on. All Microsoft has to do is query WMI to determine if the device is touch-capable or not. If it's not, boot-to-the-desktop seems like the most likely installation method.
Clue #4: Tying Up Loose Ends
The second rumor comes today, again from Mary Jo Foley (the maven of Microsoft mystery and mayhem) and it suggests that Windows 8.1 Update 1 may see new Enterprise functionality made available for IE11. IE10 was extremely problematic for companies due to various incompatibilities. I experienced those myself. And, then when IE11 first released, things got worse – enough so, to make me rant about it last year. Fortunately, subsequent updates fixed most of the problems and IE11 is, today, a much better, much safer browser. However, many incompatibilities still exist and ironically some of those are with Microsoft's own products such as previous versions of OWA. As Mary Jo explains it, Microsoft is working on Enterprise Mode for IE (EMIE) for IE11. EMIE enables IT Pros to customize IE11's compatibility list to force selected sites to run in IE8 mode.
Obviously, this sounds a lot like a Group Policy setting to me. But, it's possible that IE11 was architected so differently that some actual code modifications need to be made before management of the compatible sites is available.
So, what does this all mean? Follow the clues. When you piece it all together, I believe it shows that Windows 8.1 Update 1 and subsequently Windows 9 will prove to be a very different situation, one that is humble, apologetic, and that better meets the goals and requirements of businesses. With Satya Nadella rumored to take over the CEO reins in a few days, Microsoft may finally be able to get back to focusing on what has made it different than any other company. Microsoft is the one company that understands business and who better to lead Microsoft back in that direction than the current, reigning king of Enterprise?
P.S. Here's something to think about:
Maybe this is just too far-reaching and mind-bending, but if Microsoft can make Windows 8.x a viable desktop operating system, could this potentially suggest the company might extend Windows XP's end of life?
Think about it.
Windows 8.1 Update 1 is rumored to release in March. Windows XP's dead-date is April 8, 2014. If Microsoft is able to make Windows 8.x a more pleasing option for Windows XP hold-outs that leaves only a month for companies to migrate. Obviously, Microsoft would prefer companies running Windows 8.x than Windows 7. So, who's to say Microsoft couldn't run a promotion in the last month of support where companies acquiring discount licenses for the new desktop-heavy Windows 8.x get an additional 6 months of Windows XP coverage while they perform their migrations?
Again, it's probably nothing. Go back to work.