Rumors are flying about Microsoft's plans to reveal its newest operating system (OS) —Windows 9 — at its annual Build conference in April. The speculation comes just in advance of ticket sales for Build 2014, which runs April 2 through 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

For a while now, we have been hearing about Project Threshold, Microsoft's rapid update development of its OS. The expectation now is that Threshold will be renamed Windows 9, rather than a further Windows 8.x update.

What will Windows 9 offer that's new and exciting enough to get the user-base upgrading again? For CIOs and content creators, will it be just another fragmented headache? And can Microsoft address the demands of an increasingly frustrated partner base that continues to see sales shrink? 

Building the Next Windows

It doesn't seem like it, thanks to the continued hardware launches, rolling hype and effective relaunch with Windows 8.1. But Windows 8 has been officially available for some 16 months and playable in various betas/previews for more than two years. 

At its upcoming Build conference, Microsoft is likely to keep the rapid-fire tempo going with an official unveiling of what we have known to date as Threshold. The project will be renamed Windows 9, according to well-placed rumors, with a launch slated for April 2015 — in time for Windows' 30th anniversary.

There is a chance the preview of Windows 9 could be available for the launch of the Surface 3 and Surface Mini tablets. Changing the name of the OS could help Microsoft move past the mixed reaction to Windows 8 and provide a clean platform for a relaunch.

Developers and content creators will be keen to see if Windows 9 expands the opportunities to push their apps and information to users in an easier or evolved manner beyond increasingly confused Marketplaces and app/site/stream hybrids. 

Learning Opportunities

Registration for Build 2014 begins tomorrow at 9 a.m. PST. Despite the cost — tickets are $2,095, the same price as last year — the event is likely to sell out within a day.

Is Windows Digging Out or Into Trouble?

Windows 8 was revealed at Build 2011, wowing the world with its appearance on ARM-based tablets and desktops. Since then, things have spiralled downhill as hardware sales declined and OS adoption failed to match expectations. Microsoft took several retrograde steps with Windows 8.1, reintroducing a start button and allowing the OS to boot to Windows desktop. 

But with smartphones and tablets increasingly more relevant to users and integrated with the Internet of Things — and Windows upgrades proving a pain to CIOs — what could change significantly in Windows 9? The OS development team has a thin line to tread on evolving the OS, answering the needs of an IT world that largely remains happy with Windows 7.  (Mainstream Microsoft support for Windows 7 ends just a year from now,  with extended support running to 2020.) Changes could include:

  • Better integration -- or at least more "common elements" -- with the Xbox One, Windows Phone and desktop operating systems. 
  • Further refinement of the tiled interface, with more information displayed or options for the customization of tiles.
  • Allowing apps to move between tiles and the desktop could solve much of the confusion among users who can have one Windows 8 tiled app and another, same-but-different app on a desktop.

Given the slow take-off of Windows 8, there are many, many questions that Microsoft will face from partners, business and press before we see Windows 9:

  • Will Windows 9 be a free update, following Apple's lead with Mavericks? Given its appearance rather quickly after Windows 8, neither businesses nor individual users are likely to jump at another paid upgrade. 
  • Will Microsoft continue its dual-fork ARM and x86 OS versions? Threshold was supposed to simplify the issues between them, but will Microsoft get ambitious and attempt deeper integration?
  • Will Windows 9 updates by matched by a Windows Phone 9 update?
  • Will the new CEO be hired on the basis that this is a done deal or will the new leader have the power to change Microsoft's future direction starting with Windows? 

Before we get to that point, there's the small matter of a Windows 8.1 update which will likely be released during Build, offering stability updates and minor refinements to the current OS. However, any glamor features will likely be held back for Windows 9, so Microsoft can attempt to get the hype train moving again. Follow the road to Build on Twitter: The hashtag is #bldwin and the Twitter handle is @bldwin. The event  will follow the equally hectic SharePoint Conference 2014 in Las Vegas. 

Title image by Orla (Shutterstock).