A new, more business-friendly Windows operating system is expected to be unveiled next week. The so-called Windows 9 platform — also known by its code name, Threshold — is said to restore a number of key interface elements that were changed with the release of Windows 8. Those changes had required users to relearn how to navigate Windows, driving many businesses away in the process. But rumors say that Microsoft may be out to reclaim the work space with a revamped version of Windows designed to appeal to business users. The tech giant is set to unveil the new platform at a special event Tuesday, Oct. 30. In the meantime, read on for five highly anticipated, but still only rumored, features that could make the platform better for work.
The Start menu returns
One of the biggest changes Microsoft made in Windows 8 was the complete removal of the familiar desktop Start menu, which is used in all other versions of Windows to find and launch programs. Instead, the OS update introduced the so-called "modern" Start menu, a full-screen interface that let you launch programs by clicking on colorful tiles. But abruptly switching between the standard Windows desktop and the new Start screen can be confusing, leaving many businesses wary of adopting Windows 8.
Now reports say that the traditional Start menu will return for Windows 9, which will let you launch programs without dragging you away from the desktop. That will mark the return of a more familiar Windows interface, and help business users stay focused on the task at hand when launching secondary applications.
Cortana on the desktop
If you've ever heard of Siri on the iPhone, Cortana should be easy to wrap your head around. It's essentially a voice-activated assistant that can let you perform all sorts of actions totally hands free. Cortana debuted this year on Windows Phone 8.1 smartphones, and now reports say that the feature is coming to the Windows 9 desktop.
On Windows Phone, Cortana enables a slew of handy voice commands. When you launch the app in Windows 9, reportedly by clicking a dedicated button on the taskbar, you'll likely hear a voice command prompt. From there, it's possible you'll be able to issue a voice command such as, "Remind me to call Cindy tomorrow at 2 p.m.," to receive an automated alert when the time comes. Cortana also lets you take a note, pull up the weather forecast, or set quiet hours so incoming emails and other tasks won't interrupt you. The feature will likely use your computer's built-in microphone to listen for commands, with the option to type out commands as well. Cortana can also push notifications to you, including alerts about upcoming calendar appointment or flight delays for business trips.
Apple fans have long enjoyed effortless continuity between their smartphones and desktop computers. That's because email, messages, calendar appointments and more are automatically synced across iPhones and Mac computers. Now Microsoft might be set to deliver similar functionality with Windows 9. Reports suggest that the company will try to unify the Windows 9 OS with the Windows Phone platform, including a single app store for smartphone and PC apps. The full extent of this mobile-to-desktop continuity isn't yet known, however.
For instance, Apple will introduce new ways to connect your iPhone or iPad to your Mac computer with the launch of OS X Yosemite, a new version of the company's desktop operating system that's coming this fall. The update will let you start working on an email or document in one device and pick up where you left off on another device, with one tap. Could that kind of functionality be coming to Windows 9?
The traditional Start menu may be set for a comeback, but that doesn't mean that the modern Start menu is gone for good. Instead, reports show that Windows 9 will default to different menus depending on whether you're using a desktop or mobile device. When you're at work on a Windows 9 computer, clicking the Start button might display the classic Start menu, and when you're using a touch-screen tablet, clicking the button might take you to the full-screen modern Start menu, which features bigger buttons and quick access to touch-optimized apps.
In fact, touch-based modern apps might be integrated directly into the classic Start menu as well. Leaked screen shots show those apps appear alongside traditional Windows programs in the desktop Start menu. In other words, Windows 9 looks set to streamline the user experience into a single unified setting, instead of running some apps on the desktop and some inside the modern interface like in Windows 8. That could really cut down on the confusion for new users.
Virtual desktop support
Other reports indicate that Windows 9 will bring virtual desktops to the platform for the first time. The virtual desktop is an organization tool available on Mac computers, which lets you create multiple active desktops for different tasks, then toggle among them with a mouse click. That lets you quickly switch among groups of open programs, allowing you to complete different tasks without cluttering up your taskbar. You can get virtual desktops on other versions of Windows by installing a third-party program, but Windows 9 could make this a native feature.
Originally published on Business News Daily.