As I've already noted, rumors abound regarding Windows 9 development at Microsoft. There are Windows 9 features to consider beyond the possible release date, subscription cost and whether the older Start menu will be fully restored. What kind of apps will Windows 9 run, and how much will it integrate with cloud computing?
Windows 9 applications
Microsoft has great hopes for Windows 9 applications. The company is aiming for a common development platform, which enables a developer to create a single app that can run on Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox One.
These unified apps would rely on a common Windows runtime that spans all devices to deliver a consistent experience on each device, while still accounting for the differences in the devices themselves, just like the operating system is supposed to do.
The development process, however, is not what concerns most users. When asked what they dislike the most about Windows 8, they usually point to the missing Smart menu and the way Modern apps have usurped the desktop.
According to the prevailing buzz, Microsoft is willing to make a concession in this area by providing a means for Modern apps to open in their own desktop windows and appear in the taskbar, just like traditional Windows programs.
The availability of a "windowed" mode for Modern apps might be enough of an incentive to bring back some of those discontented desktop users into the Microsoft fold. These workers will once again use their desktops as intended, to multitask and perform joint operations.
Despite Microsoft's willingness to return the beloved Start menu and windowed apps, the company is not likely to back down from its unwavering ascent into the cloud. Microsoft's vision for its next OS is undoubtedly a cloud-enabled Windows in which the desktop relies more heavily on the cloud for computing power.
To date, Microsoft has spoken mostly in general terms what this might mean, pointing to concepts such as machine learning and extracting information about entities, relationships and key ideas. The goal, it seems, is to bring to the desktop the type of processing and analytics conducted routinely by a service such as Bing.
One theory being floated is that the basic Windows OS will shrink, with the core living in the BIOS. All other services would be moved to the cloud and available to the specific apps being used, which would certainly lend itself to a subscription-based licensing model.
At this point, however, it's not clear to what extent Microsoft plans to integrate the cloud into its basic operating system. Nor is it clear whether part of the company's strategy is to build a separate system altogether, a true cloud OS that's a different product from its more traditional Windows 9 counterpart.
The great Windows 9 debate
The rumors, conjecture and wishful thinking don't stop the Start menu or Modern apps. There have also been discussions about whether Windows 9 will come only as a 64-bit OS, how much the Windows 9 will use Intel's new energy-saving technologies and what other features might be supported, with gesture recognition topping the list.
Whatever the final Windows 9 features look like, Microsoft needs to strike the right balance between the old and the new. The company can't afford another Windows 8 or Windows Vista. In an era of declining desktop implementation rates, Microsoft managed to alienate its desktop users, and Windows 9 must be the product to make things right.