Rumored Windows ‘Threshold’ Update Could Recast Microsoft’s Key Platform

Microsoft mostly kept its head down during CES, but with its Build developer conference on the horizon and several platforms to unify, the company has a busy few months ahead of it.

Recently, both Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley wrote on Microsoft’s future ‘Threshold’ Windows update. Threshold is not what Microsoft will release in 2014. That code, an update to Windows 8.1, will likely land in the first half of this year, along with an update to Windows Phone.

Simply put, we should see Windows Phone 8.1 and an update to Windows 8.1 in April.

But what is further ahead matters more. Threshold, the 2015 update to Windows, will likely be named Windows 9 according to Foley. Thurrott echoes the fact, but goes further, indicating that it will include a rethinking of the Metro-facing elements of the operating system, a change that could include “a windowed mode that works on the desktop.”

Thurrott also mentions that Microsoft is aiming for an April 2015 release date for Threshold. That’s almost an interesting timing. If Microsoft completes and ships Windows Phone 8.1 and the Windows 8.1 update in April, they will be the code that ships on computers for the rest of the year. If Windows 9 ships in April of 2015, Microsoft will be releasing its new code in the first half of the year in an industry that can see hardware sales cycles titled towards the second half of the year.

This would also lead to a very decoulpled Windows and Surface release schedules.

It seems likely that we will be given a taste of the Windows to come at Build. The Windows 8.1 update could help Microsoft staunch yet continuing losses in the size of the greater PC market, but it’s clear that PCs themselves could use a shot in the arm. Thurrott is pessimistic on the current Windows-machine market:

Windows 8 has set back Microsoft, and Windows, by years, and possibly for good. […] Threshold will target this new world. It could very well be a make or break release.

That almost feels too extreme, but only slightly: If alternative operating systems can prove themselves as PC possibilities, the total size of the PC market won’t be indicative of Microsoft’s own market scale. That’s a reality Microsoft can’t afford.

Foley has a final thought that is worth repeating: “Threshold will include updates to all three Windows OS platforms (Xbox One, Windows and Windows Phone) that will advance them in a way to share even more common elements.” That squares with all the above: Microsoft will continue its process of uniting its larger operating system varietals while at once trying to unwind at least some of the bind that Windows 8.x has caused its users.

We’ll have more in short order, but keep it safe to say that the first half of this year and the next are going to be critical for Microsoft’s most sacred platform.

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