Windows 8 hasn’t even been formally unveiled yet, but already we know quite a bit about its successor. Some of this was announced even before Windows 7 was released and yet more has been announced at Microsoft’s recent Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC). So what do we actually know about Windows 9 at this point, and how will it change our computing experiences?
Back before even Windows 7 was launched Microsoft announced that its successor, Windows 8, would be the very last version of Windows to support the old 32-bit architecture. It was very important that Microsoft made this announcement then. This then gave businesses a six year warning that they’d have to redevelop their ageing legacy software to work with a 64-bit operating system. It also warned software developers that they had just six years left to make sure all of their software, plug-ins and Windows extensions would be 64-bit; probably the most high profile example being Adobe’s Flash player which is only just appearing in a 64-bit beta despite Internet Explorer having gone 64-bit with Windows Vista in 2006.
All modern hardware has now been 64-bit for about three years now so there’s no need for hardware manufacturers to catch up. However this will put added pressure on hardware vendors and software companies to run their code through Microsoft certification programmes, as the move to 64-bit may force all unsigned code off the platform (Note: this may happen with Windows 8 ). Windows Server 2008 is already 64-bit only, this is the test for Windows on the desktop and the move has been very successful.
Legacy Support will be Dropped
Again it is a possibility that this will happen with Windows 8, but the move to a completely x64 operating system will mean that there will be absolutely no need for any legacy support within the operating system anyway. This will be because none of the legacy apps, drivers and plug-ins that exist today; which all run on 32-bit architecture, will run on a 64-bit only platform. The move will be towards sandboxed virtualisation. I say sandboxed as Windows XP will be completely out of support before Windows 9 goes on sale, and Microsoft will need to reassure business and consumers alike that running legacy code in a virtual machine will be safe and secure. Again the test was Windows Server 2008 which is 64-bit only with no support for 32-bit software or drivers.
One OS to run them all
Okay, so Lord of the Rings jokes aside, it was announced at the Worldwide Partner Conference that Microsoft want to move all of their systems to a unified operating system. This is what Apple have done with iOS on the iPhone and iPad being a set of extensions on top of the core OS X kernel. It makes sense too and we, again, may see some of this with Windows 8 as back in January this year, the CEO of Intel commented that his company would be shipping Windows 8 on smartphones.
When Microsoft were developing Windows Vista they did away with the old OS kernel from XP and instead replaced it with the core kernel from Windows Server 2003. To this day both the desktop and server versions of Windows run the same core kernel, and this move has proved spectacularly successful for Microsoft. Windows 7 is widely acknowledged to be one of the most secure operating systems available today (ongoing issues with legacy support not withstanding).
A unified Interface
Again this was announced at the WPC. It makes some sense for Microsoft to move all their devices, where possible, to a perhaps not unified, but certainly standardised interface. This isn’t always possible or a good idea. For instance the addition of Launchpad in OS X Lion, which arranges your icons in a grid pattern on the screen in the same way they appear on the iPad. While a nice idea in principle, it’s been criticised for spacing the icons too far apart on the desktop, making excessive mouse movements required for launching them. According to many people it’s a poor alternative to OS X’s current dock.
If you can standardise some elements across your platforms though then you can help people move seamlessly from one to another. Nobody is ever going to argue though that tablet interfaces will work on the desktop or vice versa, Windows 7 on tablets is the finest example of this.
In all, Windows 9, when it appears in 2015 will be a significant departure for Microsoft and probably the most exciting version of Windows ever. That said it will also cause businesses, software companies and hardware vendors significant headaches if they don’t start work on 64-bit versions of their products very soon.
It is still possible that some of this functionality, even perhaps in more limited forms will appear with Windows 8. It’s unlikely though that we’ll see a full scale move to a legacy free future this time around. Microsoft simply don’t work that way and businesses would be up in arms if not given enough notice. Stranger things have happened before at Redmond though.