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Windows 9: How Microsoft might overhaul the interface in its next OS

Jared Newman | Feb. 8, 2013
Every graying movie franchise needs a great sequel to give it a boost. Think Star Trek and James Bond. Operating systems are no different--especially Microsoft's. After receiving a critical beatdown for Windows 8, what does the company have up its sleeve for Windows 9?

Hobbs came up short on suggestions for what this reimagined desktop would look like, but here's one idea: Think of a Surface all-in-one PC that you could manipulate from afar with a Kinect-like system. It's not so farfetched.

We're already seeing glimpses of this type of functionality. A firm called Leap Motion is releasing a $70 motion sensor peripheral that's about the size of a pack of gum and can be added to Windows 8 PCs. Leap Motion technology lets you track movements of both your hands (and all ten of your fingers) at 290 frames per second and detect movements as slight as 0.01 millimeter (see the video above). Asus says that it will bundle Leap's hand-gesture technology into a number of high-end laptops in 2013.

Other ways to move beyond the mouse and keyboard in Windows 9 are possible, but success will depend on tight integration of hardware and software. Incidentally, such integration is the kind of thing that Steve Ballmer says Microsoft wants to do.

Keep the desktop for diehards

Let's be honest, though: Killing the desktop in Windows 9 would be an extreme step--and a highly unlikely one. But Microsoft could certainly arrange for a cleaner future transition. The desktop would live on, but in a way that didn't seem so jarring next to the new Modern-style interface.

Raluca Budiu, a senior researcher for user experience research firm Nielsen Norman Group, has an idea about how this might work. Instead of providing a full-blown desktop environment, Microsoft could offer some type of compatibility mode for desktop apps within the Modern-style interface. You would still be able to run the full version of, say, Adobe Photoshop in a self-contained area, with its own windowing system. Meanwhile, another program, such as iTunes, would be confined to its own area. You would lose the ability to run multiple programs side-by-side on a single screen, but none of the other desktop baggage would apply. You'd have no separate Control Panel, no dueling versions of Internet Explorer, no separate file browser, and no taskbar--all features of Windows 8 today.

"Just let PC apps start automatically in this desktop mode...but don't force people to have to manage their computer by interacting with the two different interfaces," Budiu wrote in an email exchange. In Budiu's description, the Modern-style interface would take over.

Budiu's suggestion makes sense for straight-up Windows 9 tablets, where the main goal is media consumption. But on a traditional PC, a full desktop environment still makes sense, especially for power users who need to juggle lots of windows. And on a hybrid device such as Surface Pro, users might want both interfaces in a single device.


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