4 key features coming to Windows 9 (hopefully)

Windows 9

Don’t get too comfy with Windows 8.1. Soon after Update 1 was released, announcements and rumors arose about what’s coming in the next version of Windows (“Windows 9” for the lack of an official name.) The earliest we might see a beta is spring 2015, but here we speculate on the four most significant features it’s likely to have.

Windows 9
Restoration of Start menu – sort of

The Start menu UI that has been a main feature of the Windows family since Windows 95 will finally return. As you know, Microsoft didn’t include it in Windows 8 in order to force you to interact with the Start Screen, so you’d be more compelled to use Windows Store apps. But for many using the OS on a desktop PC or notebook (in other words, the vast majority of us), the familiar Start menu’s absence was jarring. Windows 8.1 restored a Start button to the desktop environment, but it leads straight back to the Start Screen when clicked/tapped.

Windows 9
Restoration of Start menu – this time for real

At Microsoft’s developer conference in April, the company showed off a Windows 8.1 version of the Start menu. The left half of this GUI’s panel lists desktop apps and categories, while the right will display Windows Store apps, with your Windows user account picture in the upper-right corner. This GUI looks slicker than any of the third-party programs that have been available to install a Start menu-style UI to Windows 8/8.1. It had been rumored that this Start menu would be included as a free update to Windows 8.1 later this year, but it’s looking like Microsoft wants to save the reborn Start menu for Windows 9.

Windows 9
Windows Store apps on the desktop

Along with the return of the Start menu, Microsoft showed at BUILD 2014 Windows Store apps running in resizable and movable windows in the desktop environment. (Update 1 laid the first-phase groundwork for this -- it enables desktop and notebook users to pin running Windows Store apps to the desktop taskbar.) It looks an awful lot like what ModernMix does, a third-party program that lets you interact with your Windows Store apps as if they are Windows desktop applications.

Windows 9
Windows Store apps could come with options

We speculate that this feature could be switched on by default for desktop and notebook users, where you might right-click an app’s Tile on the Start Screen and be presented with an option to “run on desktop.” (On the other hand, if you just click an app’s Tile from the new Start menu, then maybe the app will launch within a resizable window on the desktop by default.)

Windows 9
Interactive Tiles on the Start Screen

At the BUILD conference, the Human-Computer Interaction Group of Microsoft Research Asia demonstrated an experimental feature that allows for the Tiles of Windows Store apps to be interacted with the Start Screen. If an app is designed to utilize this, you would be able to tap the Tile for it to show you more information. For example, you could tap a weather app to see an extended forecast, without having to launch the app itself into full-screen mode. Likewise, tapping an email app would expand the size of its Tile to reveal subject headings of the most recent emails in your inbox.

Windows 9
Live Tiles

The Human-Computer Interaction Group created a task manager app that demonstrates this function. Its Tile can be tapped to display applications that are running in the desktop environment, so that you can manage them directly from the Start Screen. Microsoft hasn’t yet officially announced the existence of interactive Tiles, but we’re guessing it’s unlikely this feature will be brought to Windows 8.1. This seems like something that will be highlighted for Windows 9 tablets.

Windows 9
Cortana, Microsoft’s voice digital assistant



Cortana comes with Windows Phone 8.1. It’s Microsoft’s take on Apple’s Siri or the combo of Google Now and Ok Google. Scrutinizing the wording of a job listing posted by Microsoft, it looks like Cortana will eventually make its way to Windows. We should expect Microsoft to be doing this since future versions of the OS -- not Windows Phone -- will likely be meant for use also on tablets, just as Windows 8/8.1 was designed to be.

Windows 9
Cortana could counter Google apps

There’s probably another, more pressing motivation for Microsoft. Google has been adding Google Now and Ok Google functions to the Windows version of Chrome: The Google browser takes over Windows’ notification area to pop open Google Now cards that show information personalized for you, like current traffic in your vicinity and local weather conditions. Additionally, you can ask “Ok Google” questions or speak some commands to it. We’ll predict that Cortana’s technology will figure prominently throughout the UI of the next major release version of Windows. In the meantime, Google will evolve and refine Google Now and Ok Google as invasive elements into the  Windows ecosphere.