What we want from Windows 9
Article by Nathan Edwards
Windows 8 hasn't exactly been a stunning success. Fewer than 12 percent of PCs run Windows 8 or 8.1, compared with 47 percent for Windows 7 and 29 percent for XP. It's still more than Mac OS X and Vista combined, but that's small consolation. So we're already looking forward to Windows 9, which will hopefully continue the tradition—firmly entrenched in both Windows and Star Trek chronology—of coming out with something good every other try. (Galaxy Quest counts as one of the good Star Treks, by the way.)
Windows 9, codenamed Threshold, is still at least a year away. Sourcey-types peg it at April 2015, so there's plenty of time for Microsoft to release something that's fully baked to make up for the melange of awesome and not-awesome that is Windows 8. So with that, here are our demands for Windows 9.
Valve is nipping at your heels, Microsoft. It's time to pay attention to PC gamers again.
Modern apps in the desktop
We get why Modern UI (aka Metro) apps go fullscreen, and why they're so damn full of whitespace: it's all part of the Modern design language, and the goal was to create a unified interface between tablets, phones, and PCs, so Microsoft could sell more phones and tablets.
Well, great, but PCs already have an interface. It's the desktop, and it's much more useful on large screens. Some of the Metro apps are great, but they'd be even better if they weren't the only thing on the screen. We have high-res screens. We have mice and keyboards. Please give us something useful to do with them in the Metro interface.
So for Windows 9, let us run Modern apps windowed on the desktop. It's not rocket science. Stardock's ModernMix already lets us do this, but there's no excuse not to bake it into Windows.
Stop trying to make touch happen
Windows 8's settings and controls are a mishmash of traditional desktop keyboard-and-mouse interface and bizarre Modern UI touch-based elements. And the Windows Store is a hodgepodge of touch-based games like Angry Birds. Not very useful on a desktop.
Windows can tell when your computer has a touchscreen, and when it has a keyboard and mouse plugged in. After all, it has to load drivers for them. So here's what we want: If there's no touchscreen, don't offer us "Tap to choose" dialogs. If there's a touchscreen and no mouse, knock yourself out.
Set DirectX free
Microsoft, it's good that you're working on improvements to DirectX that'll enable lower overhead and faster performance. But don't make people pay to upgrade Windows just to get the new DirectX version. Like how DirectX 10 was only available if people upgraded to Vista, and DirectX 11.2 is only available on Windows 8.1. It's a good way to encourage gamers to download service packs, yes—Windows 7 users should have the latest service packs installed, and if the only way to get them to do that is to hold DirectX 11.1 over their heads, well, we can understand. But don't tie them to OS upgrades that cost $100, especially if only every other operating system version is worth installing. Tying DirectX 10 to Windows Vista just made gamers angry, and they found a way to install Halo 2—the big Vista exclusive—on XP, anyway.
Hell, if you're feeling really generous, don't tie DirectX to Windows at all. Set it free. After all, AMD, Nvidia, and Intel are working on reducing driver overhead in OpenGL, too, and that'll work everywhere, not just on Windows. Cough, SteamOS, cough cough.
Don't mess with the desktop
When Windows 8 came out, game publishers were worried. Worried that Microsoft would eventually decree that the only way to sell games on Windows would be through the Windows Store, and Windows would no longer be an open platform. That's why SteamOS is happening.
That hasn't happened—yet. While the Windows Store is the only way to get Modern UI apps, on the regular ol' desktop you can still install and run whatever you want. That's where PC gaming lives, in standalone games like League of Legends, or through digital distribution services like EA Origin and Steam. So our request here is simple: Keep it that way. Don't mess with the ingredient that gave Windows 90 percent of the PC market: the ability to run anything from anywhere.
While we're at it, enough with the Windows Store-only game releases. C'mon.
Let Games for Windows Live stay dead
We get what Games For Windows Live was supposed to be: Xbox Live for the PC. But what it turned into was a shambling, broken mess of pain-in-the-ass that never worked properly, and threatened to sink any game that was attached to it. You seem to be shutting it down, Microsoft, though very sneakily.
A living room interface for gaming
Hear that sound? That's SteamOS coming to eat your lunch. Get a ten-foot gaming interface into Windows 9 and you'll stop the bleeding. Maybe. Because as much as we have high hopes that every developer will make their games work with OpenGL from now on, Windows is still the seat of PC gaming. There are two ways to keep it that way, and the good way is to offer a user experience that makes people stick with Windows because they want to, not just because that's where more of their games work.
You had a ten-foot interface for years. It was called Windows Media Center, and it was actually really good, but nobody used it, so you phased it out. And you have a living room gaming interface now, called Xbox. But that doesn't mean you can't have another one. Hell, make it look like Xbox. Which looks like the Metro Start page. Which looks good from ten feet away. See, it's all coming together.
Let my people stream (even to an Xbox)
Ooh, here's an idea. Stop me if you can tell where I'm going with this. Steam's In-Home Streaming beta lets you run games on your most powerful PC, but play them from a less powerful one connected to your TV—say, a Steam Box. Xbox Smartglass lets you play movies and music from your PC or mobile device to your Xbox.
An Xbox One is a midrange PC attached to your TV.
Now, this isn't going to stop people with living-room PCs (either Windows or SteamOS) from streaming to them. You're not trying to crush your enemies, just keep up with them a little bit. There are tons of people out there with gaming PCs and Xboxes, and plenty of them would be happier to stream PC games from their Windows PC to their Xbox than to mess with setting up a whole different computer and hooking it up to the TV. You love forcing cross-platform integration. Let's make it good for gamers for once and reward the people who have already bought into two of your gaming ecosystems.
Xbox One controller support
After the mouse and keyboard, the Xbox 360 controller is the PC gamer's weapon of choice. The wired 360 controllers can plug directly into a USB port, while the wireless ones need a special USB adapter, but both can work with PCs. The Xbox One controller? Not so much.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Either let us connect the Xbox One controller to our PCs via that handy nine-foot USB charging cable it comes with, or (if you must) sell us a USB Wi-Fi Direct adapter. Pretty please?