Windows 8 has been on the market for five months, so thoughts are turning to its successor, codenamed 'Windows Blue'. This is what we know about it so far.
Officially Microsoft isn't saying much. There hasn't been a major official announcement about Windows Blue (which is the codename for the project, and probably won't be the final name on release, especially given the potentially unpleasant association with the Windows 'blue screen of death'). Most of what we know has been pieced together from blog posts and comments from anonymous sources. The leak of a partner build last week has excited more discussion around the topic. There are suggestions the product could be out by mid-year, though again that hasn't been officially confirmed.
It's an upgrade, not a major new release. The basic Windows 8 interface isn't going away or radically changing. The leaked build suggests we'll see some tweaks to the interface, including more options for resizing live tiles, the ability to snap Windows 8 apps next to each other (with each taking up half the screen), and potentially the ability to feature four Windows 8 apps at once (handy on a larger screen, arguably less useful on a tablet). Internet Explorer 11 is also expected to be bundled in the Blue update.
It may signal a shift to yearly upgrades. Much of the reporting around Blue suggests that it's part of a move by Microsoft to attempt more frequent updates on a yearly cycle. In some ways, this would make sense, especially given the relatively low price for Windows 8 compared to previous upgrades; keeping new versions coming would help fund the project.
With that said, the upgrade cycle partially a question of semantics; the feature set for Windows Blue sounds more like a service pack, and those have to be issued more frequently. Microsoft's core enterprise audience also is less likely to be keen on unscheduled updates issued on short notice. To date, Windows 8 adoption has been relatively slow.
It will impact Windows Phone Continuing down the path of using the same code core for both Windows and Windows Phone, Blue is also expected to impact phone rollouts, though the timeframe is not likely to match exactly. (Windows Phone 8 itself will officially end-of-life by mid-2014.)