A. 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.
There is reason to believe that Windows 8.2 will introduce the revamped Start menu 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.
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. 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.
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.