By Sebastian Anthony
According to the latest leaks out of Microsoft, the next major version of Windows — Windows 9, Windows Threshold — will kill off the Charms bar. And, if that wasn’t enough to win back the droves of Desktop users who were scared off by the disgusting blight of Windows 8 Metroficiation, Windows 9 will also have virtual desktops! Yes, it would seem Microsoft is serious about making Windows a first-class operating system for mouse-and-keyboard users yet again.
If you’ve never used Windows 8, the Charms bar is one of the many abominable Metro-style additions that unfortunately also made it to the Desktop. The Charms bar is accessed by pushing your mouse into a corner of the screen, and then delicately moving your pointer up the edge of the screen to the necessary button (Share, Search, Devices, or Settings). This is probably one of the most uncomfortable UI interactions in computing history. The Charms bar is actually pretty slick on a touchscreen, where it’s comfortably accessed with your thumb, but we’ll probably never know why Microsoft also made mouse-and-keyboard users interact with it.
According to various sources, current internal alpha builds of Windows Threshold do not have the Charms bar. It isn’t clear if the Charms bar is only being removed from the Desktop, or from the Metro interface as well. Metro apps, which currently rely on the Charms bar for sharing and settings, will be changed so that these functions are exposed elsewhere. Don’t forget that Windows 9 will also allow for Metro apps to be run on the Desktop in a window — in which case, the working theory is that these Metro-on-Desktop apps will gain a Settings button in the top corner of the title bar, along with minimize and close. Desktop users will go back to using the resurrected Start menu and system tray — if they ever stopped using them in the first place, anyway.
The other interesting tidbit of news is that Windows 9 will apparently support virtual desktops. This is a fairly old interface paradigm that’s been available on various operating systems almost since the advent of the desktop. OS X and Ubuntu have had native virtual desktop support for years, but Windows has historically required a third-party app to enable such functionality. Now, if internal builds of Windows 9 are to be believed, the Windows 9 Desktop will have baked-in support for virtual desktops. Virtual desktops aren’t exactly a killer feature (even for power users like me, I prefer multiple monitors), but it shows that Microsoft is serious about winning back the support of disaffected Desktop users after the Windows 8 snafu.
So far, then, so good — Microsoft has (finally) realized that Windows 8 offers very little for mouse-and-keyboard users, which still make up the vast majority of its user base. These changes are clearly targeted at creating significant distance between Windows 8 and Windows 9, and thus hopefully regaining the trust and affection of the lucrative enterprise market which has signaled that it’s more than happy to hold onto Windows XP and Windows 7 rather than attempt a painful upgrade to Windows 8.
As a full-time Windows Desktop user, I’m rather excited about Windows 9. Bear in mind that these are just a few of the changes that are coming in Windows 9. Microsoft isn’t expected to release a preview build of Windows 9 until this fall — ahead of a final RTM release in April 2015 — and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a lot of cool features targeted at mouse-and-keyboard users by the time it rolls around. It might be too much to hope that the Metro-style PC Settings pane gets integrated into the Desktop Control Panel, but you never know.