By Joe Osborne
With Windows 8.1, Microsoft addressed some of the problems that scuffed the original Windows 8 release, smoothing the cracks between desktop and touch UIs, improving snapped apps, and allowing users to boot direct to the desktop, among other tweaks and fixes.
For many, this is the software that Microsoft should have launched in 2012.
For others, Windows 8.1 simply makes Windows 8 slightly less terrible. The truth is that, while Windows 8.1 improves Windows 8, the consensus is that it doesn’t do enough.
Before an all-new, rewritten-from-the-ground-up, cloud-embracing Windows 9 appears, we will probably have Windows 8.2 as a stop-gap in late 2014, although Windows 8.1 Update 1 is already available for download. Windows 9 could then appear in 2015.
Cut to the chase
What is it? An upgrade for Windows, to follow Windows 8.1 Update 1
When is it out? Probably late 2014
What will it cost? Nothing, it will be a free upgrade
First though, we know that Windows 8.1 Update 1 will appear during Build 2014 after a previous goof already let it out of the bag. It’s the leakiest update to Windows yet and is fairly underwhelming.
The new update features improvements to the Start Screen including the ability to boot straight into the Desktop, the return of shutdown on the Start screen and a more familiar task bar to unify the old and new user interfaces.
Windows 8.2 release date
WZOR, a Russian leaker group, seems set on a fall release date based on information it claims to have obtained. However, the collective isn’t sure of whether the release will be known was “Windows 8.2” or just “Windows 8.1 Update 2.”
Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet fame, however, has been told by sources that this update could launch as early as August 2014. She reports that Microsoft looks to speed up its software update release cadence on the whole, starting with Windows 8.2 and possibly for future Windows Phone releases.
What Windows 8.2 might do
The same group of leakers, WZOR, has reason to believe that Windows 8.2 will introduce the revamped Start menu that was teased during Build 2014. That means a return, or at least something similar, to the Start menu found on Windows 7.
A major difference will be the addition of integrated Live Tiles to the Start menu. This will dually keep the Modern UI aesthetic of Windows 8 while including some of that live-updating functionality.
ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley cites sources that echo this sentiment. However, she reports that the inclusion of Modern UI apps in the desktop UI as floating windows and on the task bar might be tabled for a larger Windows 9 release in 2015.
What Windows 8.2 should do
While Microsoft listened to user feedback and reinstated the Start button in Windows 8.1, they didn’t make it intuitive.
Clicking the Start icon simply takes you to the Metro Start screen. You need to right-click the icon to bring up a Start Menu, with more familiar quick links to Task Manager, Control Panel and Shut Down. Even this menu isn’t strictly new: it’s hidden in Windows 8 (press and hold the Windows key and press X to open it).
Windows 8.2 could make the Start Screen easier to access and it would be an ideal opportunity to improve the discoverability of other useful options that are currently buried in sub-menus.
While Microsoft is at it, Windows 8.2 should reinstate Libraries in File Explorer, which don’t show by default. Yes, you can turn them back on. But again, the option isn’t easy to find. Microsoft’s fondness for labyrinthine menu structures is frustrating, especially for inexperienced users.
Windows 8.2: Desktop apps
If there is a Windows 8.2 release in the future, there’s a strong chance it will be another OS polish – there’s still some work to be done eliminating non-Metro menus to reduce the jarring switch between the new and old UIs. That said, Microsoft needs to accept that many users don’t own touchscreen devices and want a traditional Windows desktop experience.
Speaking of the traditional desktop, how about running apps in desktop windows to reduce the amount of time you spend switching from one UI to another? Microsoft only needs to look as far as Stardock’s clever ModernMix software, which already gives you the ability to do this. Stardock also sells a fully-featured Start Menu addon (Start8), which is a better solution to the half-baked Windows 8.1 version.
Windows 8.2: One app store to rule them all?
Microsoft has been talking about unifying its Windows Phone and Windows app stores and, while this missed the Windows 8.1 update, rumours of a 2014 release would fit neatly with any plans for Windows 8.2.
Such unification is necessary for Microsoft’s vision of Windows across devices, but it would also improve the experience for users and developers alike. A Microsoft job posting back in February posed the question: “Do you wish the code you write for Windows Store apps would just work on the Windows Phone and vice versa?” That suggests this isn’t a case of “if” but “when.”
Windows 8.2: Will it be Windows 9?
Of course, there might not be a Windows 8.2 and Microsoft might skip straight ahead to Windows 9, sweeping Windows 8 hurriedly under the corporate rug. Little is known about the next Windows OS bar the fact that it will involve more cloud integration and potentially some of the cloud processing cleverness debuting in the Xbox One.
One thing is clear. Whether we see Windows 8.2 or Windows 9, the next iteration of Windows will try to move us closer to the “one Microsoft” vision. The current “three Microsofts” approach – Windows 8, Windows Phone and Windows RT – is far too confusing for consumers.
- What would you like to see in Windows 8.2? Tell us in the comments.