Earlier this week, alleged screenshots of the next version of Windows, codenamed Threshold, leaked online. The images provided the first in-depth look at Microsoft's upcoming OS, including support for virtual desktops, the inclusion of a notification center, and the new Start menu.
Two videos have since appeared that purportedly show the Start menu in action. Both were posted by German blog WinFuture, which also, along with another German website, posted the screenshots. Microsoft's decision to remove the Start menu from Windows 8 alienated some traditional PC users, many of whom dismissed the new user interface as too touch oriented. The new videos give these disgruntled mouse-and-keyboard users additional reassurance that Microsoft's PC interface is headed in the right direction.
If you hate Windows 8's tiled Start screen, the video suggests Microsoft has heard you, as Threshold will allow users to completely purge Live Tiles and the Modern-style apps they represent. Even so, the new apps are a central part of Microsoft's strategy; they allow developers to write software that will run on any Windows platform, from the Xbox to smartphones, and could eventually offer users a seamless digital experience as they move from device to device. For that reason, Threshold appears to include several ways for users to interact with Modern apps, even if those users spend most of their time in the desktop UI.
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In April, Microsoft previewed an early version of the new Start menu, which at the time included a Windows 7-like list of common destinations and apps in a column on the left, and a collection of Live Tiles in a column on the right. The screenshots and videos are consistent with this look. They also support recent rumors that claim the new Start menu won't replace Windows 8's Start screen as much as absorb it.
In the video, the Start menu's left column includes links to File Explorer, the Documents folder, and other frequent destinations that should be familiar to Windows 7 users. But the left column evidently also can be switched to an "all apps" list. The right column, meanwhile, includes any Live Tiles the user has pinned there. In the Threshold system settings, this right column is still referred to as a Start screen, but unlike the version in Windows 8, it takes up space only within the Start menu, rather than needing its own screen.
Users can open, pin, unpin, and uninstall apps directly from within the Start menu. The upshot is that if you don't use any Modern apps, you can simply refrain from pinning any to the Start menu. You can also uninstall any that might happen to come pre-pinned when you upgrade or buy a new machine. That way, if you don't want to see any tiles, you won't.
If you choose to pin tiles to the Start menu, they can be resized and moved around, just like Windows 8.1 lets you do on its Start screen. Some of them also appear to be truly "live" in that they display a constant stream of updates, whereas others are just regular icons. This is also consistent with the way Live Tiles work in Windows 8 and 8.1.
In the videos, when Modern apps are launched from the Start menu, they open in floating windows on the desktop, just like legacy applications. These windows can be moved around, resized, and layered on top of one another, whereas current Modern apps in Windows 8 and 8.1 are viewable only in full-screen mode.
Based on the new leaks, Threshold will still contain a Windows 8-style Start screen, but it will be disabled by default. If enabled, the OS will boot directly to the Start screen. This resembles the UI customization options available in Windows 8.1, which chooses its default settings based on the type of hardware on which it's running, and then lets users make changes. They can choose, for example, to boot PCs directly to the desktop, or the Modern Start screen. Even though Threshold includes a number of features aimed at desktop users, it makes sense to include both UIs, since the OS will also run on not only conventional PCs, but also on two-in-one devices and touchscreen PCs. But Threshold looks to give users even more control over how and when the two UIs interact.
Microsoft reps haven't commented on the leaks, but even if they're legitimate, a lot could change between now and Threshold's official release, expected in spring 2015. In fact, according to some rumors, change is at the forefront of Microsoft's goals. The company is expected in the next month to release a "Public Enterprise Technical Preview" of Threshold that will allow users to provide one-click feedback. According to ZDnet's Mary Jo Foley, who has a good record for pre-release Microsoft info, different users might be given different versions of Threshold depending on what kind of feedback they provide. For Microsoft, it seems the idea is to gather a lot of real-world data about what works and what doesn't, and implement necessary changes before shipping the final product.
Later this year, Microsoft is expected to release a second, consumer-focused preview for tablet and smartphone users. At this point, it's still not clear what Microsoft intends to call Threshold when it comes to market. Some indications, including a social media post from official Microsoft account, indicate the next version will be called Windows 9, perhaps to distance the new release from Windows 8's poor reputation. But other reports say Microsoft might drop version numbers and just refer to all its operating systems as "Windows." Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has made broad allusions to such a strategy, and the new videos and screenshots contain references to "Windows" but not to "Windows 9."
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