Preston Gralla

Windows Blue shows why Microsoft may kill the Desktop in Windows 9

March 25, 2013 10:00 AM EDT

Desktop fans, be worried: Leaked Windows Blue code hints that when Microsoft gets around to building Windows 9, there's a chance it may kill the Desktop entirely.

Windows Blue is the code name for what will likely be an update to Windows 8, which many people are saying will be available some time later this year, possibly as early as late this summer. It apparently will include updates not just for Windows 8, but for Windows RT as well.

Leaked screenshots show the ability to use smaller tiles on the Start screen, several new apps, new navigation gestures, a new Snap View that lets you easily place two Windows 8 apps side by side on the screen, and a new version of Internet Explorer 11.

Paul Thurrot, who has gotten his hands on the code, offers the best in-depth examination of Windows Blue. What's most intriguing about his walk-through is the hint that Windows Blue is a transition between a Windows 8 with a Desktop, and a Windows 9 without one. He finds that many settings that you could previously only get to in the Desktop Control Panel have been moved to the Windows 8 settings screen:

"All the action in this build is in PC settings, and if you were looking for any further proof the desktop being eased out going forward, look no further than this. As noted in the previous report, there are a ton of new settings in there now, including many items that were previously only available in the desktop-based Control Panel interface. This is clearly an indication of how we get from here (Windows 8) to there (Windows 9, with potentially no desktop)."

I think he's right that there's a reasonable chance that Microsoft will finally get around to killing the Desktop in Windows 9. With Windows 8, Microsoft did its best to make the Desktop at best an afterthought, relegating it to a tile on the Start screen. Windows 8 has been built for touch and the horizontal orientation of a tablet, and the Desktop has no place in that world.

Microsoft hopes that by forcing people to use the Start screen and native Windows 8 apps, it familiarize people with using the interface that is also used on Windows 8 tablets and smartphones. And that, the company believes, will spur sales of its tablets and smartphones. That hasn't happened yet, but clearly Microsoft hopes that long-term exposure over several years will do the trick. Doing away with the Desktop entirely would force those who now use the Desktop to use the Start screen instead, and get them used to the new Windows look.

All this assumes that by the time Windows 9 hits, Office will be available as a Windows 8 native app. The newest version of Office is a Desktop application, but it very much looks like a native Windows 8 app. So I would expect that the version of Office after that will be Windows 8 (or Windows 9) optimized.

How about non-Microsoft applications that now run on the Desktop? Their developers would be forced to follow Microsoft's lead and write their apps to be Windows-native. If not, their businesses would wither.

If Microsoft kills the Desktop, it would almost certainly build a of feature into Windows that would allow you to run install Desktop apps in some way and run them from the Start screen. There just wouldn't be a Desktop.

This wouldn't be the first time that Microsoft would have built in backwards-compatibility features into Windows, while moving people to a new interface. It did that during the switch from DOS to Windows, for example. And with each successive version of Windows, it often did that as well. For example, the Application Compatibility Toolkit applies changes to hundreds of older programs to allow them to run under newer versions of Windows.

It's certainly no done deal that Microsoft will do away with the Desktop in Windows 9. But even if it doesn't kill it in Windows 9, at some point the Desktop is going away.