Microsoft is planning to bring back the desktop in Windows 9. Long live the traditional desktop!

Last month Paul Thurott published a series of rumors about big changes that are coming to the Windows desktop OS, including Microsoft bringing the desktop back and allowing Metro touch-based apps to run in a window on the desktop along with traditional desktop apps.

Last month Paul Thurott published a series of rumors about big changes that are coming to the Windows desktop OS, including Microsoft bringing the desktop back and allowing Metro touch-based apps to run in a window on the desktop along with traditional desktop apps.

I meant to write about this back then but I forgot, and I was reminded last week when Paul published another article saying these changes would be part of Windows 9 (codenamed "Threshold") which is slated for April 2015.

(Can we talk about that name for a sec? Paul says it's because Threshold will come after Windows Phone 8 but before Microsoft combines Windows Phone and Windows RT into a single codebase, so the timing is when Microsoft is on the threshold of a truly consolidated OS. Personally I like to think of it like Microsoft wants Windows 9 to be the crossing of the threshold into the new house of Microsoft that consumers actually want—a house that has windows and glass and things you can touch. Or maybe it's like no one will buy Windows until this minimum threshold of functionality is built? Or, heck, maybe Microsoft has realized we've finally hit the limit of our threshold of pain?)

Regardless of the meaning of the name, let's think about what this change might mean.

First, I've been writing a lot about how the "desktop" as a concept is changing. Instead of the desktop being a single Windows desktop OS where you aggregate your files, settings, and programs, the desktop will evolve into more of a concept that applies to whatever device you're actually using at that moment. So yeah, the desktop of the future will still be the aggregation point for your files, settings, and programs, but they'll be aggregated into a native experience on your phone, your tablet, or your PC.

Furthermore I've written that traditional Windows desktop applications will become the long tail of enterprise apps, and that in the future the only desktop apps we'll need will be occasional line-of-business apps that we can't get migrated to future platforms.

While most people agree with those two ideas, most disagree on the timing. I've been writing that it will happen "soon," (I'm thinking the next few years), while most others believe the desktop will be around for a long, long time.

One of my arguments for a quick transition was that Microsoft seemed to be abandoning the desktop, but if these Threshold plans are true, then it looks like those who disagreed with me will be right—the traditional desktop will be around for a long time.

Long live the desktop! What's that mean for us?

Assuming this is all true, what does it mean for us? First of all, it means that our traditional ways of desktop management are not going away anytime soon. We'll still be dealing with image management and patching and Windows profiles well into the Windows 9 timeframe. (Hopefully we'll get better integration with cloud, web, mobile, and other types of apps and profiles, but those will be in addition to Windows desktops rather than replacing them.)

Second, it means that the idea of replacing traditional desktop management (SCCM, etc.) with some kind of new age mobile-like desktop management (MDM, etc.) is not going to happen anytime soon. While many people (myself included) believe that MDM is "better" than traditional desktop management, and we fantasize about replacing SCCM with MDM, the reality is that the traditional Windows desktop applications that we manage with SCCM are very different than the mobile apps we manage with MDM.

Some folks have gotten excited about the idea of using MDM to manage Windows desktops. After all, isn't that a feature of Windows 8.1? Actually, no, as Jack Madden explained last month. Unfortunately the MDM management capabilities of Windows 8.1 only apply to the Windows Store "Metro" apps—not to traditional Windows desktop mode applications. So we can assume it's going to continue that way for awhile, since again, Windows apps are just different animals and can't be managed like mobile apps. (The one exception to that is maybe if you used FSLogix for your all your traditional Windows apps then you can make them behave more like Windows Store apps where they could appear and disappear instantly and reliably?)

Oh BTW, this is also great for DaaS!

Remember Gabe and I have also declared that 2014 will be the "Year of Daas" (at least when it comes to people choosing where to host their VDI). One of the funny things people said when we wrote that was that, "Hey, so now the DaaS thing is finally catching on when the traditional desktop that makes up the DaaS doesn't matter?"

Well at least now we know that with the traditional Windows desktop not going anywhere anytime soon, we'll still have something to DaaS about for the next few years. Yay

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Microsoft got ahead of themselves with Windows 8 when they bet all in on the tablet craze.  They forgot the majority of people still use a traditional PC at work and home.  I thought they had a chance to go after the tablet market if they made Metro a tablet mode that can be turned on/off and not forceibly tell people how to use their PCs.  

I'm glad Win8 failure happened because if it became a success Ballmer would remain CEO, he has no vision at all and will continue Microsoft's downward spiral.  This means they need to start hiring brighter minds to lead instead of hiring so many traditional backward thinking managers.


This change in direction is good for Microsoft and good for enterprise end users.  The value proposition for Microsoft has always been continuity with the past.  They have already showed evidence of this change in direction.  With the reintroduction of the start button and boot to desktop, Windows 8.1 is actually more similar to Windows 7 than 8.0. Windows Threshold will go even further.

The other major gap that is rapidly closing is hardware.  We will soon be able to fit the x86 platform in an ARM-shaped form-factor.  This is fantastic news for "the desktop" and will make 2in1s very competitive.

Windows continuity and x86 hardware advancements could very well save Microsoft, and produce a mobile end user computing platform of choice.  Count me among those that believe we will have "the desktop" for quite some time.


Brian, on another note, just a word of warning for us to keep in mind: I think some people might jump on this and say, "See, look, I told you that MDM and EMM was crap!" So to counter that we should add that, yes, this is good omen for the continued importance Windows desktops, but it doesn't mean we're returning to the days of only having to worry about Windows and ignoring mobile devices :)


Yeah good point. Even with the Windows 9 desktop and Windows and Metro apps side-by-side, users will still have a lot of web apps and mobile device time, and if we want to manage the whole user environment, then we have to figure out how to manage those as well.


The future of software has always been free (or at worst low cost) and on the web. Socialist I hear you cry! The structure of the internet is sort of socialistic, no country or corporation fully owns it, attempts to commercialize it have thus far failed (watch this space re: net neutrality debate). Today's software runs on the internet (see Facebook, Twitter and Netflix) and so there is a war waging between open free systems and closed proprietary ones. Microsoft has fought the open, socialistic tech world view tooth and nail ever since Internet Explorer was released and subsequently had the DoJ and European Courts knocking at the door. Understandable as the tech sector has never been anything other than a commercial and capitalistic concern. The Windows Operating System was never designed for the web (it took until XP SP2 to build in a personal firewall) and has been stifled by the ball and chain of "backwards compatibility", fragmented development teams and a disconnection between what people want and what Microsoft make (see Me, Vista and 8/Metro). Microsoft lost costumer confidence a long time ago and has continued to hurt the enterprise customers that it's come to rely on with increasingly bloated, resource hungry and slow performing OS and Office releases, overly expensive, complex and confusing (honestly ridiculous!) licensing models and highly proprietary mobility solutions (see Surface RT)... Contributors to this site have already written articles about the limitations of running Office 365 on iOS!

Even the thought of Windows 9 is boring... I can see your readerships eyes collectively rolling as they read that the good ol' Windows desktop is gonna be back for years to come. Our expectations have become so high from new products but yet we're all so unsurprised to hear when the next Microsoft OS has failed to impress... yet again. Microsoft is desperately clinging on to the old guard. It's industry revenue at stake, not just for Microsoft but also for all the myriad hangers on like Citrix, VMware and the smaller outfits like Atlantis offering overly expensive ways to make Windows do what we all need it too and to shoehorn Windows into a form factor it was never intended for. SaaS will eventually rule all, and not the proprietary walled gardens that Microsoft, Citrix and VMware are trying to flog us with products like Cloud Gateway and vCloud director (even Amazon is at risk here).

Is it all necessary or does Microsoft have a choice to do something better. Will Microsoft bite the hands that feed it by being bad friends with this community of partners all feeding of its barnacles? Apple saw the writing on the wall and now gives away its OS and iWork suite of apps for free (admittedly they do have a widely successfully phone and tablet lineup to bankroll this!)

Windows 9 will be more of the same tired bloatware, tarted up with pretty colors and in need of constant patching unless Microsoft chooses to do something altogether different and shock the industry. Build clever software that changes peoples lives and give it away for free, add features that garner ridicule by your peers for not charging money for them... Customers will worship you! Charge small amounts for things where it makes sense, ask for too much at your peril and risk losing customers all over again. Raise the bar so others are forced to follow, build it for the web using open standards so it runs on be everything. Maybe Microsoft could make history by making Windows open source GNU GPL...

Windows 9.... Sigh :/