(Source: Microsoft)
Modern UI appears hear to stay, but Microsoft is willing to make tweaks based on criticism

SuperSite For Windows blogger Paul Thurrott has dug up some interesting details on what might be coming next for Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) veteran operating system.
I. Return of the Mack... er Start Button
Microsoft in October rolled out Windows 8.1, an update that marks the company transitioning to a path of faster, iterative releases à la Apple, Inc. (AAPL).  The update came at a time when PC sales were in record decline, following criticism of Windows 8 and Microsoft's struggles in the mobile market.  While Windows 8.1 included a number of requested changes, such as the ability to boot into Desktop Mode (instead of Modern UI) and the return of the iconic Start Button, it remains to be seen if it will help the platform's sagging sales.
If Windows 8.1 went back on some of Microsoft's decisions to ditch familiar Windows features, its successor "Windows 8.2" is expected to continue further down the path of backtracking.  According to Mr. Thurrott the next bump -- expected to land sometime late next year or in early 2015 -- will include a full Start Menu similar to that found in Windows 7 and previous releases.

Start Menu
Microsoft is reportedly restoring the start menu in Windows 8.2. [Image Source: Microsoft]

His sources are referring to the build simply as "the next version of Windows."
The Start button found in Windows 8.1, while a familiar icon, dumps you into Modern UI, making it function different from Start buttons in every other consumer Windows release of the past two decades.  Many consumers were frustrated that Microsoft refused to give them the Start Menu and simply gave them more Modern UI, when it was Modern UI that they were unhappy with in the first place.  But before Microsoft traditionalists get too excited, Mr. Thurrott adds a warning, stating, "It's possible this will appear only on those product versions that support the desktop."
Some third party apps have already restored the eliminated menu.
II. "Threshold" == Windows 8.2 & Company?
According to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft is preparing a series of updates for its Windows Phone, Xbox One, and Windows 8.x platforms dubbed "Threshold".  Threshold will reportedly take Microsoft to -- you guessed it -- the "threshold" of a unified API set.  The Windows 8.x SKU for "Threshold" (which Mr. Thurrott guesses will be Windows 8.2) will come in three forms: a "consumer" OS SKU for ARM Holdings plc (LON:ARM) chips (likely a scalable build of Windows Phone, bearing some similarities to Windows RT); a "traditional" x86 SKU; and an even more traditional enterprise SKU.
Many enterprise users have complained that Windows 8's touch-driven graphically rich UI is poorly suited to power use.  The Enterprise SKU should help to fix that, and in some ways inherits the legacy of the "Professional" or "Ultimate" SKUs in past Windows releases, SKUs that typically bundled in extra enterprise-friendly features.
The Threshold plans sound reasonable as far as rumors come; Microsoft has already made its goal of API unification well known in recent presentations.

Microsoft platforms
Microsoft's "Threshold" releases aim to enable developers to deploy a single app that works on Windows Phone, Xbox One, and Windows 8.x, without custom code. [Image Source: Microsoft, et. al.]

In addition to the huge news of the return of the Start Menu, Mr. Thurrott also claims that Windows 8.2 will allow users to run Modern UI (aka "Metro") apps in floating Windows on a desktop.  How this clash of styles will wind up looking, if the rumor holds true, will be interesting to say the least.
Even if these rumors hold true, there's no telling if Microsoft will continue to follow that direction.  It's notably preparing for a power transition with CEO Steve Ballmer stepping down after over a decade in charge of the firm.  His successor has not yet been announced; the top candidates are thought to be Ford Motor Comp. (F) CEO Alan Mulally and Microsoft Devices executive vice president (and former Nokia Oyj. (HEX:NOK1V)) CEO) Stephen Elop.
Mr. Mulally recently stated that he will remain at Ford through the end of 2014, but Forbes contends that plan is not set in stone.  If he does take over at Microsoft it is unclear exactly what changes he might aim to make in terms of direction.  If Mr. Elop takes over he reportedly will move away from exclusivity for top Microsoft apps like Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office, releasing them for additional platforms like Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Chrome OS and Android; Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iOS and OS X; and other top Linux distributions like Canonical's Ubuntu.

Sources: SuperSite For Windows, ZDNet, Neowin

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