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9/27/2014
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Windows Threshold Event: 6 Things To Expect

Microsoft has much to prove when it shows off the next version of Windows at an event this Tuesday. Here's what to expect.

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10 Tech Terms Millennials Don't Know
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On Tuesday, Microsoft will hold an event in San Francisco to reveal "what's next for Windows." The company has been vague on details, other than to confirm the event will focus on enterprise customers, but it's widely expected Microsoft will demonstrate the next version of Windows, codenamed Threshold.

Microsoft will have a lot to prove. Windows is still the dominant operating system for PCs, but thanks to weak Windows 8 adoption, competitors have begun to gain ground in important markets. Millions of businesses rely on Windows 7, and Microsoft needs to convince them that it has a sensible upgrade path. With less than 14% of PC users, Windows 8 and 8.1 are a distant third in the OS race, even though new Windows 8.1 devices are as cheap as mainstream computers have ever been. Windows XP, which isn't even supported anymore, has 70% more users. Even famously-maligned Windows Vista had more market share at the same point in its cycle.

But Microsoft might actually welcome comparisons between Windows 8 and Vista; after all, Microsoft followed up Vista with Windows 7, one of its greatest successes ever, so perhaps with Threshold, the company can similarly rebound from Windows 8. Is a comeback story in the cards? Here are six things to expect from this Tuesday's event:

1. Mouse-and-keyboard users will have their day.
With its unfamiliar interface, Windows 8 alienated many traditional PC users. With Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Update, Microsoft attempted to undo some of the damage by making the OS less touch-reliant. In April, it previewed one of the biggest ways Threshold will appeal to desktop users: by bringing back a Start menu.

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Traditional PC users make up a huge portion of the enterprise market that Microsoft plans to address with Tuesday's event. Thanks to a steady stream of Threshold leaks and rumors, Windows observers expect the new OS to boot to the desktop and disable the touch-oriented Charms menu by default when installed on PCs. The Modern Start screen will still be available, however. Two-in-one devices such as Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 are expected to switch interfaces depending on whether a keyboard is attached. Threshold is also expected to add virtual desktops, and to allow users to run Modern apps in resizable windows as legacy applications.

A screenshot from an allegedly leaked build of Windows Threshold.
(Source: WinFuture)
A screenshot from an allegedly leaked build of Windows Threshold. (Source: WinFuture)

2. Microsoft will offer a technical preview of Windows Threshold.
Microsoft is expected to not only demonstrate Threshold, but also make it available as a technical preview. The preview reportedly won't arrive until early October, however. With the preview, Microsoft is expected to launch an opt-in feedback campaign in which users can use a Live Tile app to easily send Microsoft their reactions to the new OS. Microsoft sometimes appeared tone deaf with Windows 8 and ostensibly wants to solicit advice from users in order to ensure the final version of Threshold, rumored for spring 2015, is more satisfying. Microsoft might deploy different versions of the Threshold preview to different users based on the feedback those users provide.

3. Mobility will make a cameo.
Early next year, Microsoft reportedly will release a separate, consumer-oriented Threshold preview for ARM-based tablets and smartphones. But even if the mobile version of Threshold is months away, expect tablets to get a few mentions on Tuesday.

CEO Satya Nadella won't be present Tuesday because he'll be travelling in Asia, but his "cloud first, mobile first" philosophy is likely to set the tone. Recent desktop sales suggest there's more life to that category than

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 10:30:08 PM
Re: Nothing new for the satisfied user
"Unfortunately, manufacturers whose products benefit from device integration are ignoring the touch-first side of Windows.  They advertise iOS and Android apps.  Once in a blue moon I see Windows Phone and to an even lesser extent, the touch side of desktop Windows."

Definitely true.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 10:26:31 PM
Re: windows
@Technocrati,


Indeed! But after Halloween, OEMs won't be able to buy new Win 7 licenses from Microsoft anymore. I'm sure many of the manufacturers have amassed a supply-- but who knows how long it lasts.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/28/2014 | 5:48:02 PM
Re: Nothing new for the satisfied user
Waqas,

Yes, I think that's fair-- to say Win 8 wasn't "tempting" enough, and that a lot of people using Windows 7 are so satisfied that they don't see a reason to upgrade.

This brings up one of the challenges for Windows 9/ Threshold. Windows 8 did poorly both because it presented usability challenges and because it didn't offer new, exciting features. Perhaps Threshold will resolve the usability issues, and reassure businesses that they won't have to retrain employees. But even if Threshold is usable, will it be persuasive to those who are still happy with Windows 7?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/28/2014 | 5:43:35 PM
Re: windows
Waqas,

It depends how you define "gaining ground." Apple and Windows OEMs aren't always going after the same goals.

In a sense, its true that Windows hasn't really lost ground, per se, in the PC market; its market share before Windows 8 was about the same as it is today-- around 90%.

That said, the PC market is huge, and recent trends can't immediately topple long-term ones. Over the long-term, Windows built up such a commanding lead, over so many generations of machines, that it would take Apple decades (and a major change in strategy) to compete for overall share. But Apple doesn't care about overall share, and recent trends are a bit different than long-term market statistics might imply. 

One recent survey found almost 27% of consumers bought an Apple computer during the recent back-to-school period, for example. The survey found that compared to the last few years, Macs were more popular and Windows machines were less popular.

Given that most Apple computers cost more than $1000, it follows from the survey that Macs simply dominate the high-end PC market. The survey also suggests a user base that far exceeds "specific brand-conscious" consumers and "art lovers."

High-end Windows 2-in-1s, on the other hands, accounted for less than 15% of Windows consumer devices from the same period-- meaning that MacBooks and iMacs outsold 2-in-1s like the Surface Pro by at least 3 to 1.

Moreover, despite Microsoft's recent efforts to increase the number of low-cost Windows options, the survey found Chromebooks accounted for 1 out of 5 sub-$300 notebook sales. 

For years, Apple has earned most of the PC industry's profits despite its "lesser" market share. If the recent survey is representative of larger trends, I expect Apple will continue to reign supreme in this important metric. Broadly speaking, Windows OEMs sell a ton of cheap PCs to businesses and professionals, whereas Apple sells a lot of Macs to students, consumers and some professionals who have the money to be discerning. Chromebooks sell to budget-conscious people who want a simple machine. I expect Windows will continue to be the OS with the most PC market share, even if Windows 9/Threshold is only okay-- but Microsoft is certainly feeling pressure from Apple at the top and Google at the bottom.
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