Is it too soon to talk about Windows 9? Well, that's not going to stop some people.
Windows 8 isn't even in beta, but its successor, Windows 9, is already starting to take shape, even if it is only in the most nebulous of forms. This should surprise no one. This industry always has multiple generations of products in development. Not to sound too cynical, but most products are already obsolete when they ship because the successor is already well under development.
This list of potential Windows 9 features isn't the wishful thinking of a hit-or-miss blogger, either. It's from Mike Halsey, a Microsoft MVP and the author of a number of books on Microsoft who has carefully pieced together the clues that are out there.
x64-only: This isn't a hard prediction to make. Before Windows 7 even launched, Microsoft said that its successor, Windows 8, would be the very last version of Windows to support the old 32-bit architecture. This makes sense. There hasn't been a 32-bit x86 processor (not including Atom) on the mainstream market for several years. Yes, Intel is still shipping 32-bit Celerons even now but they are for fringe devices.
If you figure Microsoft wants to go no more than three years in between major releases, with Windows Vista in 2006, Win 7 in 2009, Win 8 in 2012, then figure on 2015 for Windows 9. By then even the Atom processor will be 64-bit, ARM will have made its transition to 64-bits and 32-bit x86 desktop/laptop processors will be history.
Prior to the release of Windows 7, Halsey writes, Microsoft warned software developers that they had just six years left to make sure all of their software, plug-ins and Windows extensions were 64-bit. That's perfect with a 2015 timeline. So don't say you weren't warned.
No More Legacy Support: This would be dependent on moving to 64-bits. That would mean no more of the WoW64 architecture to support 32-bit windows. Once all of the apps, drivers and plug-ins move to 64-bits, there will be no need for 32-bit backwards compatibility. If you do need Windows XP support for some reason, it will likely be through sandboxed virtualization similar to what is done in Windows Server 2008, which is 64-bit only.
A Single Windows Base: At the Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft said it wanted to move all of their systems to a unified operating system, a move similar to what Apple has done with its operating systems. The Mac, iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad all use the same code base.
Starting with Vista, Microsoft has pretty much unified its x86 operating systems. At their cores, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 are identical. It's what Microsoft puts on top of them that differentiates the two. With the next Xbox in development and smartphone hardware advancing, it won't be too hard to make a single OS base that spans the line of Microsoft products. This should make cross-platform development much easier.
A Unified Interface: this is another WPC announcement. It's not hard to predict this. People have already noticed the resemblance between Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8. If Microsoft is shooting to make a single OS across all devices, then a common UI is only logical. Learn one UI and you learn them all.
This may backfire, as some people don't like the Windows 8 look. However, if Microsoft makes the desktop customizable, truly customizable, then it could be a hit. My desktop is customized with Rainmeter, and I'd love to be able to do the same to my phone and a console.
Of course, 2015 is a long way off. Microsoft has all kinds of research and skunkworks projects going on and who knows, one day something might come along that changes everything. Like the saying goes, men plan and God laughs.