One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

Summary: Does an HTML5 browser running on all Microsoft platforms go far enough in terms of enabling the Redmondians to create their promised unified ecosystem?

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For months, rumors have been circulating that Microsoft was poised to make its "Windows Everywhere" world a reality. But that reality is still a ways off, in spite of comments by Microsoft execs this week at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference about a unified ecosystem across phones, PCs and TVs.

Here's the quote from Microsoft Windows Phone President Andy Lees from his partner-show keynote this week that has many buzzing:

"One of the key important things here, though, is the change that's yet to happen, but it's about to happen, and that is the bringing together of these devices into a unified ecosystem, because at the core of the device itself it's possible to be common across phones, PCs, and TVs, and even other things, because the price drops dramatically. Then it will be a single ecosystem. We won't have an ecosystem for PCs, and an ecosystem for phones, one for tablets. They'll all come together. And just look at the opportunity here."

In Microsoft lingo, "ecosystem" is a broad-brush term that can mean anything from the development environment, to its distribution channels. Was Lees making a vague reference to the idea of a shared app-store across phones, PCs and gaming consoles -- something that could possibly launch as soon as next year when Windows 8 launches? Or was he actually talking about a unified operating system development platform -- a goal which is a lot harder to achieve and make take years?

First things first: When Microsoft currently describes a gadget or system as being a "Windows" device, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is running the Windows PC operating system.

Windows Phone, for example, runs an operating system which is, at its core, Windows Embedded Compact, with a layer of Microsoft customization on top. Set-top boxes run Windows Embedded Compact, too, not Windows. Some of the Windows tablets and slates on the market -- and still coming to market  --also are running Windows Compact Embedded. Windows Azure, Microsoft's cloud operating system, has its roots in Windows Server, but has been architected from the ground up to be customized for datacenters. Xbox runs a highly customized operating system that includes elements of the old Windows NT operating system.

Because Microsoft has managed to port Windows to the ARM processor -- something it will make available on ARM-based tablets and clamshell devices with Windows 8 -- it is now technically feasible that Microsoft could make Windows the operating system that powers its Windows Phones. To date, the Softies haven't done this because while Windows Embedded Compact worked on ARM, Windows did not. But as of Windows 8, the "real" Windows will be able to run on the ARM/System on a Chip architectures.

Just because something can be done, doesn't necessarily mean it will be done. I've been asking around as to whether Microsoft will be redoing its Windows Phone 8 operating system to use the same Windows 8 as will be on PCs and tablets. After all, both Windows 8 and Windows Phone OS 8 (codenamed Apollo) are expected to be out and available to consumers in 2012. I hear this isn't likely. In fact, it's highly unlikely, my contacts say. That means the big harmonic Windows convergence probably isn't happening until Windows Phone OS 9 (2013?), at best.

The biggest question mark in this "one big Windows world" scenario is on the apps front. Even if Microsoft can't/won't have the same Windows operating system on phones, PCs and TVs, does that mean the same apps can't run across all of these devices? In other words, would the Angry Birds game on Windows Phone automatically work on a Windows 8 tablet and on your Xbox? The "write once, run anywhere" goal -- is it possible when the underlying operating systems are different -- even though their user interfaces look very much alike?

Some developers with whom I've spoken think the differences between the platforms are relatively trivial, since Windows Embedded Compact is a subset of Windows. At one point, Microsoft was talking about plans to make its Silverlight browser plug-in available everywhere -- on phones, PCs, set-top boxes and Xbox. (The Silverlight on Mediaroom and Silverlight on set-top plans -- codenamed Taos and Santa Fe --may or may not still be alive). But in recent months, that talk has waned.

Other developers think that new apps that are written in HTML5/JavaScript will be able to run on any Microsoft platform that has an HTML5 browser built in, and that HTML5/JavaScript will enable Microsoft, its partners and its customers to gloss over underlying Windows-level differences.

I'm interested in hearing from developers as to what you're hoping/expecting here. Do you care whether Microsoft actually makes all of its platforms run the same Windows core? Or does an HTML5 browser running on all platforms go far enough in terms of enabling Microsoft to create its promised unified ecosystem?

Update: The Windows Embedded team at Microsoft wants it known that they aren't going away, regardless of all this one-Windows talk. A spokesperson sent the following statement, for the record:

“Support for ARM architecture on Windows 8 creates new opportunities to bring the full power of Windows to a range of devices. Windows Embedded has a long history of delivering platforms and technologies for the ARM architecture and we are excited to continue our work in that field. We will also continue our collaboration with Windows to shape Microsoft's future, but we have no additional news to share at this time.”

(And no, that doesn't mean anything contrary to what I've said Microsoft's ultimate plan to put Windows on phones, from what I hear.)

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Mobility, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

    All the devices don't need to be the same at the core. If they share a common API layer for certain services (network, ID, data storage) that's enough. The idea of not even having to recompile an app to move it to a different type of device provides very little value at a large cost. The cost is huge mass / inertia that such an operating system would have.

    It seems that this is more about Microsoft navel gazing and being in awe of themselves then providing value to their customers.
    curph
    • Good is as good does

      @curph
      While they are shamelessly copying Apple as usual, they are doing the same with iOS and Lion, is unifying as in simplifying something good, usually at least.
      Mikael_z
      • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

        @Mikael_z
        Apple? Sheesh........ :|
        rhonin
      • That's what you think

        @Mikael_z Microsoft's unified ecosystem has been an ongoing mantra for years. Many commenters, including ZDNet bloggers seemingly don't understand what Microsoft is doing. Microsoft has this secret sauce called the .NET framework. All of this was supposed to be part of the core of Windows back in project Longhorn, which was never realized. Now Windows 8 aims to deepen the ties with .NET making it easier to port code across all Windows devices. The only things you'll have to refactor is the UI for the screen size.
        General C#
      • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

        @Mikael_z

        apple is far from unified. OSX apps will never run on iOS. apple has a fragmented system with two incompatible platforms. microsoft is going the oposite way and bringing the dominant platform of the world to smaller devices.
        neonspark
      • @GeneralC#

        I'm not sure, having had the (good or otherwise) fortune to have association with the odd (very odd actually) smurf or few of Redmond that I'm not sure if they have a plan on anything. Goals aplenty, but plans?
        ego.sum.stig
      • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

        @Mikael_z LOL! How are they copying Apple you sycophantic idiot? You want to know what shameless copying is? It's Apple blatantly ripping off patented features of Windows Phone 7 and calling it innovation.

        You're an idiot of epic proportions. Go shove your head back up Job's dirt star.
        JoeHTH
      • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

        Other developers think that new apps that are written in HTML5/JavaScript will be able to run on any Microsoft platform that has an HTML5 browser built in, and that HTML5/JavaScript will enable Microsoft, its partners and its customers to gloss over underlying Windows-level differences.<a rel="follow" href="http://www.adisonhighschool.com/adison/ged.asp">ged online </a>
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      • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

        @Mikael_z Why it tends to globalize, to be centrally controlled to be only a few people?! Perhaps that conspiracy theory have strong arguments. <a title="Submit Articles" href="http://www.zuarticles.com">Submit Articles</a>
        kuntakinte77
    • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

      @curph

      if you write for .net you don't have to do much. System.IO remains System.IO in silverlight, wpf, win forms, you name it. and this provides huge value to customers which rather use one core logic system with different UI shells than multiple implementations of a system per platfom.
      neonspark
      • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

        Yes, including using Micro .NET for implementing deeply embedded ARM targets (e.g. Netduino). Gives a developer w/ .NET experience the ability to target very small to very big.
        ab1aw
    • Sad as the day may very well come soon; and Microsoft is in the balance.

      @curph > cloud computing is without a doubt going to happen very quickly, but frankly I think that Steve Balmer is looking too far ahead with Microsoft under recent development projections; and won't be able to pull back or be flexible with their large scale commitment agenda. It is all just too much momentum once it all starts rolling and to stop it will be damaging and to not stop it will be equally damaging.
      Rob T.
  • Unified ecosystem

    In Kevin Turner's slide: our future is unified ecosystem. There are actually two rows. I put my zoom glass on one word: Bing. I am thinking...
    jk_10
  • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

    I think a Silverlight+XNA unified ecosystem could be right around the corner. While it's technically binary compatible, apps will need to be tailored to the various 3/4 screens but there's no reason the underlying code and even overall UI design can't be the same on all of them.
    UCFw00t
    • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

      @UCFw00t XNA+Silverlight is one way but you cannot make some serious app by using it. We still need .net or Java or C, whatever real programming language. And .net&Java is only cross platform choice among them. Surely MS don't prefer Java but where's the hell .net on Windows event?
      Eggry
      • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

        @Eggry
        How is .net a cross platform?
        kirovs@...
      • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

        @Eggry
        Silverlight uses .Net.
        Darkninja962
      • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

        @Eggry Sliverlight and XNA are both .NET technologies which can run very well on both Windows 7 (and beyond) and Windows Phone 7. XNA is also used to create games for the XBox platform and XBox will be supporting Silverlight very soon. Both technologies on all three platforms support C#, VB.NET and other .NET languages. So where is the problem?
        Tiggster79
      • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

        @Eggry

        silverlight programming is 100% .net based. no different from windows forms and wpf. and completely dissagree that you can't make a serious app in silverlight. it already supports more features than windows forms ever did, and there are plenty of "serious" windows forms apps out there.
        neonspark
      • RE: One big Windows world. It's coming, but when and how?

        Cross platform means cross platform. Like Mac, Linux, RIM, etc. Come up with another name. Like cross-Windows maybe?
        kirovs@...