Windows 9 will be a major overhaul of the Windows 8 user interface, as change list continues to expand

Even as the public awaits Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) upcoming Windows 8.1 Update 2, an even more anticipated release -- the Windows 9 "Threshold" Preview Release -- looms on the horizon.  With Microsoft reportedly targeting an April 2015 commercial launch, a public Preview Release in the Sept.-Oct. Window seems likely.
I. Virtual Desktops
Meanwhile, new reports from NeowinZDNetThe Verge, and WinBeta offer new details about a couple of major changes both to the feature set and UI of Windows 9.
First up, Brad Sams of Neowin is reporting that new builds of Windows 9 currently being tested by Microsoft engineers include a button that allows you to select from multiple workspaces (desktops).  These so-called "virtual desktops" are a feature that's long been found in most modern Unix-like operating systems including popular Linux distributions and OS X.
Microsoft's implementation is close to that of Canonical, Ltd.'s Ubuntu, according to Neowin.  As one would expect, power users will be able to switch between virtual desktops more quickly using keyboard shortcuts.  The feature was first hinted at in February by Microsoft UI designer Jacob Miller.

Windows 7 3D multi-desktop
A third party Windows 7 multi-desktop (virtual desktop) app [Image Source:Informatique-Live]

It's worth noting that Windows actually has featured the ability to extend into virtual desktop since at least Windows 7.  However, this capability was previously not built-in and required the use of third-party apps, most of which were somewhat clunky and unpolished, albeit well intentioned.  Most users have been unaware of the existence of these options.
II. A Lack of Charm
The second and slightly less clear rumor involves changes to the "Charms" menu/overlay.
In its current form in Windows 8/8.1, the menu hovers on the right-hand side of your screen.  The Charms menu currently provides general functionality -- e.g. a Start Button to return you to the beginning of the Metro (Modern UI) Start Menu and some fast shortcuts to common system functions (search settings).  When you're running apps the Charms menu takes on a supporting role.
Apps commit to "Contracts" with the Charms menu, allowing for functionality like "Share" (where data is sent to other compatible registered apps, e.g. a camera app sending data to a Flickr app), "Search" (where content in the app is searched appropriately), and "Settings" (which reveals device specific settings).

Charms menus
Charms are one of the most-loathed Windows 8/8.1 features.

On tablets Charms are a bit of learning curve, but ultimately a good thing.  They're relatively easy to access on a touch-screen and provide quick, intuitive access to important functionality.  But for traditional PCs they're one of the Windows 8/8.1 UI's biggest remaining annoyances, as they require a very delicate mouse over/hover in the corner/edge of the screen in order to coax them out of hiding.
III. The Replacements
Windows 9 solves this problem by reportedly ditching the Charms menu bar in its current form altogether in Desktop mode.  The status of the Modern UI (Metro) Start Screen's Charms menu is also up in the air, although not definitively scrapped.  WinBeta, who first reported on the shift, wrote:
Before we begin, we must stress that we're talking about the Charms for the desktop only. We haven't heard too much about the Charms bar for tablets, however we believe the way they are accessed won't be changing from its current form.
But ZDNet's Microsoft-insider Mary Jo Foley claims:
WinBeta suggested that Microsoft might eliminate the Charms Bar for desktop users, not tablet users. But my sources say the Charms Bar will be going away completely for all desktop, laptop and tablet users with Threshold.
According to WinBeta, one idea being considered by Microsoft is to scrap the Charm idea altogether.  Under this plan apps would have to return to individually implementing settings, in-app search, etc. perhaps with the help of a new API.

Windows 9
A new UI element next to the minimize button in the Windows frame provide access to app search and settings, replacing the Charms. [Image Source: WinBeta]

But the site adds that it may not be possible to do that, as such a move would likely break backwards compatibility with Windows 8/8.1 apps that rely on the feature.  Instead, WinBeta reports that Microsoft is leaning towards a fourth window frame button to go in the top right-hand corner of windows, next to the minimize button.
Clicking this new frame button would activate a dropdown with search and settings options.  Share could also be added to this menu, but according to Mary Jo Foley's sources Microsoft prefers to pulling it out and allowing developers to add it either via an API or via yet another window frame button.  The Start Button is largely redundant so both reports indicate it will simply go away.
III. Public Preview Coming This Fall
The Verge claims to have yet a third independent confirmation of Charms changes.  Its account echoes the ZDNet report closely.  It raises a worthwhile point, though, in that Microsoft not only was urged to make this change to help mouse and keyboard users who struggled with this UI element, it was also forced to by the addition of floating Modern UI apps in Desktop Mode.
The presence of floating apps made the Charms menu much more confusing as you might have two apps floating side by side and select Charms only to mistakenly enter the other app's settings (if you clicked it on the way to select the Charms menu).  By adding frame buttons, Microsoft essentially adds a mini Charms-like option set to every window Modern UI app, a necessity.

Windows Start Menu
Floating Modern UI apps in Windows 9 made adding Charms-like functionality to the window frame a neccesity. [Image Source: Redmond Pie]

Adding fuel to the rumors fire about a Public Preview within the next couple months, Mary Jo Foley also writes:

I've heard from my sources that Microsoft is hoping to deliver a public preview of Threshold some time in the fall of 2014. 

In other words, even if you aren't a Microsoft employee or MSDN subscriber, you may still get a chance to take the new Windows 9 Modern UI Desktop Start Menu, windowed Desktop Modern UI apps, the Charms stand-in window frame buttons, and more for a spin shortly.

Sources: Neowin, WinBeta, ZDNet, The Verge

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