If Microsoft wants to convince people who are stubbornly hanging on to Windows 7 to upgrade, it's going to have to make some enticing chances to the current generation OS. If recent rumors prove true, Microsoft might be headed in the right direction.
Until this week, many of the rumoured updates to the so-called Threshold update to Windows 8 were pretty minor. There's talk of the return of the Windows 7-style start menu and the ability to run modern style apps in the desktop view, at least according to Paul Thurrott's sources.
But now several reports, starting with one from Neowin, suggest that the next big update to Windows will include a virtual desktop feature. This is just the kind of improvement over Windows 7 that the next version will need if Microsoft hopes to win new customers.
It also fits with CEO Satya Nadella's so-called "dual-user" vision. He's been talking a lot about dual-users, meaning that most people have a device like a phone or laptop that they use for both work and personal activities. Here, we call this consumerization.
The idea behind the virtual desktop feature is to let users create multiple work zones that they can switch between when working on different projects. Rather than having to hunt around for the apps you need to work on a particular activity, you can group them together so that you can open a desktop and get started.
The feature could be particularly useful in separating work and play on a machine. Distracting social media apps can live in one desktop where they won't keep you from doing real work while you're focusing on a task in another desktop. Or, if you have multiple clients and you use different apps when working for each -- say one client prefers to share via Box and another via Dropbox -- you can save the appropriate apps in a desktop dedicated to each client.
Nadella has talked about how Microsoft apps will automatically "partition data between work and life." The virtual desktop isn't an automatic partition but it's a step in the right direction.
Other OSes, like OS X and some Linux varieties, already offer this type of feature, so Microsoft is playing catch-up here. The feature isn't for everyone but some people will find it a productivity booster.
This virtual desktop feature alone won't draw significant numbers of users. But it's just the kind of useful new capability that will get people interested in an updated OS.
Other rumored changes will fix annoying aspects of Windows 8. Put the removal of the Charms bar in that category, reported by ZDnet's Mary Jo Foley and others. For those of you who haven't used Windows 8, the Charms bar is a UI element that pops out in the right column to display icons for shutting down, opening settings, searching, and other activities. Some people really hate the charms bar because it's easy to open accidentally. Plus, it's hard to know it's there when it's closed -- there's no intuitive way to figure out the charms bar even exists.
For now, these are all rumors. Even if Microsoft is working on some of these changes, there's no guarantee they'll make it into a final version of the OS. But Microsoft needs to work hard if it wants to retain and win new users following the lackluster performance of Windows 8.