Some Windows 8 users who installed Microsoft’s August update are once again seeing the dreaded Blue Screen of Death—the sign of a PC suffering a hard, unrecoverable crash. Microsoft says it’s investigating the problem and has pulled the update, which can also inflict somewhat less catastrophic typeface problems in some cases.
It’s just the latest travail for the ill-starred operating system. Windows 8 was Microsoft’s big effort to bring a mobile sensibility to its workhorse PC software. It debuted in late 2012 to less-than-stellar reviews and a significant user backlash, particularly among regular desktop users, many of whom found the touch-optimized “Metro” interface unhelpful at best and counterproductive at worst.
But help may be on the way.
Standing On The Threshold
A preview version of the next major Windows release, currently codenamed “Threshold,” could be available to the public as soon as late September, ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley reports. (Foley is a particularly reliable Windows watcher.)
If all goes well, Threshold will most likely formally launch as Windows 9 in the spring of 2015.
Much like the interim Windows 8.1 update that Microsoft released last summer, Threshold aims to correct many of the issues that have plagued Windows 8 on desktops and laptops. Foley reports that one of her contacts says the preview will be public and available to anyone who’s interested.
Here’s a quick rundown of the expected changes.
Return Of The Start Menu
Windows 8.1 brought back the Start button, which had gone AWOL in the original Windows 8 release, much to the dismay of desktop users. Since the only thing it does is return you to the tile-and-hub Metro interface (which Microsoft now calls “Modern”), though, it’s not exactly a big win for anyone using the Windows desktop.
Threshold promises to bring back a redesigned Start menu that provides desktop users with quicker access to a variety of programs and settings. It will apparently incorporate Metro-style design elements, including big pictures and, apparently, updating tiles, if an April preview presentation is any indication. (Although it also looks like you’ll be able to customize it as well.)
Metro-Style Apps On The Desktop
In that presentation, Microsoft VP Terry Myerson, who runs the company’s operating-system groups, also showed off a feature designed to let Metro-style apps run on the desktop. The idea, presumably, is to limit—perhaps even eliminate—the need to switch between the desktop and Metro to access particular programs that only operate on one or the other.
Death To The Charms Bar
Microsoft will reportedly eliminate the “Charms Bar,” a pop-out tray with icons for search, sharing and various settings. Many users consider it an irritation, given its habit of popping out unbidden at odd moments. Instead, those settings appear likely to move into individual app times in the Metro interface.
Go Virtual On The Desktop
Threshold may also offer “virtual desktops,” a way of giving users multiple ways to launch and switch between apps . Mac OS X already offers something similar with its Mission Control feature.
Your Windows Personal Assistant
Cortana, the personal assistant Microsoft launched on mobile as part of Windows Phone 8.1, also seems likely to make an appearance on the Windows desktop in Threshold.
Heavy Lifting For Threshold
Microsoft has a lot riding on Threshold. Windows 8 has apparently been pretty solid technically, the recent update bug notwithstanding. But its idiosyncrasies and design failures have prompted a vast number of comparisons to its much-maligned ancestor, Windows Vista—reportedly even within Microsoft itself.
To get a sense of just how deep a hole Windows 8 has dug for itself, take a closer look at data from Net Applications. As of July, all Windows 8 versions held only a 12.5% share of the desktop market in July, up about a quarter of a percentage point since April. (Vista, in case you were curious, holds about a 3% market share.)
You might have expected more of a boost, since April is when Microsoft formally ended support for Windows XP, effectively forcing upgrades on anyone who wanted regular bug fixes and security patches.
See also: Good Night, Windows XP
But those migratory users haven’t flocked to Windows 8 in vast numbers. Instead, it’s the unexciting-but-functional Windows 7 that’s benefited the most; its market share is up a full two percentage points, to 51%, in that same three-month period.
Lead image by Bob Familiar