Windows 9 explained with smiley faces and Venn diagrams. An emoji update to my Win8 post.


Long time Microsoft analyst Mary Jo Foley says the next release of Microsoft’s Windows operating system will “try to undo the usability mistakes made with Windows 8.” The release, currently code named “Threshold”, is likely to come out in Spring 2015 as Windows 9. As you’re undoubtedly aware, Windows 8 has a hybrid user interface that switches back and forth between a touchscreen Metro mode and a mouse/keyboard Desktop mode. And that extra complexity has led to poor adoption by Microsoft’s core constituency of corporate desktop customers. Here’s the full quote from Foley’s article:

Users running Threshold on a desktop/laptop will get a SKU, or version, that puts the Windows Desktop (for running Win32/legacy apps) front and center. Two-in-one devices, like the Lenovo Yoga or Surface Pro, will support switching between the Metro-Style mode and the Windowed mode, based on whether or not keyboards are connected or disconnected.

The combined Phone/Tablet SKU of Threshold won’t have a Desktop environment at all, but still will support apps running side by side, my sources are reconfirming. This “Threshold Mobile” SKU will work on ARM-based Windows Phones (not just Lumias), ARM-based Windows tablets and, I believe, Intel-Atom-based tablets.

One of Microsoft’s primary missions with Threshold is to try to undo the usability mistakes made with Windows 8 for those who prefer and/or are stuck with devices that are not touch-first and for which keyboard/mouse use is of central importance.

As a fan of Microsoft, it was a shame to see them release the hybrid Windows 8 interface in the first place. It’s bodes well they’re adjusting course.

My favorite response to the Windows 9 rumors came from John Gruber. He quoted his judgement from back in June 2011, from months before Windows 8 even came out. Worth a screenshot to show his footnote in context:


The thing is, very few people called this correctly at the time. I can only recall John Gruber and MG Siegler as being decisively negative. Most tech analysts were wait and see, with some even positive. After puzzling over this for a long time, I think the explanation is simple enough: good software design is just really really hard. And likewise having good judgement on other people’s designs is also hard. From my post on that topic:

Hence we can split the blame for bad software design three ways: 1) Malice, 2) Stupidity, 3) Difficulty. While it’s always a mix, I’m firmly in camp #3 Difficulty. Let’s pair the first saying with a second: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. And never attribute to stupidity that which is adequately explained by difficulty.”

Of course influenced by John Gruber, I’ve also been writing about the problems with the Windows 8 hybrid design since before it came out. In fact a few months back I tried an experiment, attempting to explain Windows 8’s usability issues with smiley faces and Venn diagrams. It was a fun little post, highlighting how the hybrid interface was great for niche power users but a disaster for everyone else. Pehaps the future of blogging lies in emoji smileyteeth. With the news on where Windows 9 is headed, it’s worth updating that graphic. See below. For this version I’ve kept all the original panels, adding a new Windows 9 panel into the next to last slot. Enjoy!



  • As before the last panel is speculative, arguing voice interaction will become a major force in mobile. My argument for voice here1 and here2.
  • Also as before, I deliberately left the Android complexity out. A design choice against complexity.
  • It’s worth mentioning that Microsoft is often accused of being late to market, but in fact they often get ahead of what the technology allows. They tried tablets before touch interface tech was possible. They tried to get into the living room before the tech behind Apple TV/Android TV was ready. And they married their desktop/mobile OS far too early. Apple and Google are slowly moving their mobile and desktop operating systems together. But they are being methodical about it. They’re waiting for the ARM chips used in mobile to become more powerful before getting ahead of themselves. More on the criticality of timing in tech here.
  • Smilies from Piaxbaysmiley-oh

By Nathan Taylor

I blog at on tech trends and the near future. I'm on twitter as @ntaylor963.


  1. I dont agree with what microsoft built and apple built completely. MS was bit late to come for multi-touch users when apple had already conquered the market. However as a desktop OS MS still leads the way next to Linux and Mac. OSX is very much stable compared to windows and linux. However windows keeps their titan market share somehow even with the drop of Windows 8.


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