Microsoft is already working on the next version of the Windows operating system, and Windows 8 hasn't shipped yet. This shouldn't surprise anyone. There's probably a Windows 10 team forming inside the company, as well. You have to look that far ahead to be competitive.
I touched on this last year with some speculation that turned out to be true: one unified interface, Don't-Call-It-Metro, and one codebase across all platforms. That has turned out true as well, as Windows Phone 8 will use much of the same code as the desktop operating system.
This latest batch of guesses comes from some casual Microsoft employees who put a wee bit too much information in their LinkedIn profiles. Stephen Chapman of MSFTKitchen dug up a bunch of listings on LinkedIn from Microsofties who are working on "Windows 9" and "Windows Next." MSFTKitchen has screen grabs of the LinkedIn profiles, because you can bet they are going to be edited real fast.
One profile is a "Release Manager" in the Visual C++ group whose job is to drive the release of the SDK. Part of his job description is "Documenting all steps necessary to hand off ownership of the SDK to the Windows 9 release and future sustainment."
Then there's a software development engineer who started in June and lists his job as "Windows 9 – NT Performance Team."
A senior product planner lists her current task as "Windows.next" and says her focus is on "all aspects of identity, for enterprise and consumer markets, both online and on the PC."
So what will Windows 9 be like? No one outside of Microsoft knows for sure. I still expect that they will go the 64-bit-only route. By the time Windows 9/Next ships, 64-bit processors will have been on the market for a decade, and maintaining backwards compatibility could be pointless by that time.
Over at ZDNet, my old colleague Mary Jo Foley is predicting that Windows is going to adopt an aggressive point release strategy similar to Apple, either with Windows 8 or the next-generation OS. Mac OS X gets point upgrades, but they are pretty big upgrades, they come regularly, and can be installed over the existing OS. You don't need to wipe the hard drive and reinstall fresh like you do now with Windows generations.
This would make sense for keeping the OS more up to date and not letting new technologies fall behind. Isn't it kind of ridiculous that even Windows 7 doesn't have native USB 3.0 support? Moving to a point release schedule like Apple would hopefully eliminate these issues.
Something tells me whatever these folks are doing, plans are likely to change come January 2013. Assuming the world hasn't ended, of course.