updated 03:59 pm EST, Mon December 9, 2013
Metro apps could be used in floating desktop windows in next version
The next major Windows update could include the return of the Start Menu, according to new reports. "Threshold," the apparent codename for the Windows 8.1 follow-up, may include the smaller Start Button user interface last seen in Windows 7, as well as the ability to run Metro-style apps from within the desktop itself.
The addition of the Start Menu, if true, is the latest concession to user complaints since the removal of the Start Button itself. Paul Thurrott reports that users will have the option to show the smaller, traditional Start Menu rather than the full-screen tiled version introduced with Windows 8, though he warns that it is possible that it will only apply to versions of Windows that have a desktop mode.
Users will also be able to run Metro apps directly on the desktop, in a similar way to normal Windows applications. Rather than taking up the entire screen or being snapped to the side of the display, the Metro apps could run from within their own floating window on the desktop.
As for the release itself, sources of ZDNet tell of three primary versions of Threshold. The "traditional" SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) will be relatively similar to the current Windows 8.1 release, in that it will offer a desktop mode, with updates coming through the Windows Store. A "modern" SKU focused on the WinRT API set would be prepared for tablets, Windows Phones, and ARM-based PCs, much like Windows RT. Though this would not be optimized for "Win32" apps, it could still have a "desktop" of some kind for devices requiring it. A third "enterprise" SKU is effectively the "traditional" version but with less Windows Store-based support, but would be more suited towards the IT policies and systems used by corporations.
It is currently believed that Threshold will be coming out sometime in 2015. It is not known if it will be classed as another incremental update to Windows 8, or as a more major release.