Microsoft working to unify further its Windows and Windows Phone platforms

Microsoft working to unify further its Windows and Windows Phone platforms

Summary: A new Microsoft job posting indicates Microsoft is planning to enable Windows apps to run without modification on Windows Phone and vice versa.


It's not too surprising, but it's good to know: Microsoft is actively moving toward making its Windows Phone apps available on Windows, and its Windows 8/Windows RT apps on Windows Phone.


According to a new job post on the Microsoft careers site - thanks @Windows4Live and for the find -- Microsoft is seeking a software development engineer in test (SDET) to help make this possible.

From the February 7 Windows Phone team job posting:

Are you excited about Windows Phone? Are you passionate about delivering the best possible experience to the developer community? Do you wish the code you write for Windows Store apps would just work on the Windows Phone and vice versa? If so, then this is the role for you! 

(Note: Windows Store apps are Metro-Style apps, for those still stymied by Microsoft's naming conventions.)

"We are looking for a highly motivated and technically strong SDET to help our team bring together the Windows Store and Phone development platforms," the job post continued. To make this happen, Microsoft is "bring(ing) much of the WinRT API (application programming interface) surface and the .NET Windows Store profile to the Phone," according to the job post. 

"You will work closely with your developer and PM (product program manager) counterparts to solve the technical challenges of bringing a platform built for desktops and tablets to the phone form factor," the job posting noted.

Currently, Microsoft does not allow Windows Phone apps to be sold in the Windows Store without modification. There are more than 150,000 Windows Phone apps in the Windows Phone Store at present. Microsoft officials have not said officially how many Windows apps are in the Windows Store, but it's believed to be considerably fewer (in spite of accidental executive promises to the contrary).

Microsoft officials have insisted there is a considerable amount of code reuse possible for developers who've built for Windows Phone and want to move their apps to Windows 8/Windows RT -- and vice versa. Some developers have said they've found this to be true; others claim there's more work to be done than they expected in moving from one platform to the other.

According to Microsoft officials, the developer platform for Windows Phone 8, which are powered by ARM processors, and Windows RT -- the version of Windows that runs on ARM processors -- is "similar." But it's not exactly the same. The two operating systems (Windows Phone and Windows 8/Windows RT) "do not have unified runtimes and application programming interfaces exposed," officials acknowledged last year.

The move to get both sets of apps to run interchangeably on the two platforms fits in with Microsoft's overarching goal to bring together the Windows 8/Windows RT and Windows Phone code bases and developer platforms. Microsoft made progress toward this goal in 2012, but for now, the Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone platforms are not identical. The Windows Phone 8 operating system does include the Windows NT core, however.

I'd think Windows Blue, the wave of next-generation Windows and Windows Phone platform releases, may be key to the move toward a common Windows Phone and Windows 8/Windows RT Store experience. According to sources, Microsoft will be making some changes at the API and kernel level to Windows as part of the Blue release, which may arrive as soon as this summer/fall, if the rumors are right.

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft, Smartphones, Software Development, Tablets, PCs, Windows Phone


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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  • Interesting

    But wasnt the point if not having phone apps in Windows 8 is to force developers to write Windows 8 apps? Otherwise you end up with the Android problem of apps stretching.
    Jeff Kibuule
    • That is one of the objections they raised, I thought

      But maybe you just get to run the WP8 app in snap view (or something like that)? Just guessing on my part. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • Probably not

        I'm sure the point is to bring the API's as close as possible, with the only differences being the differences between devices (Ex: APIs for Phone access wouldn't make much sense on a tablet without a Phone app), and allow developers to supply different User Interfaces for different device screen sizes.

        That way a user could download a "Multi-device" app, and download once, run anywhere. That's the dream right?
        Lee Fowler
        • They already are very united

          WP8 and WIN8 share the same core and the same XAML model (except HTML/JS on WIN8 but no one uses JS to code WIN8 apps anyway). It's fairly easy to port apps back and forth b/t the two.
      • 1/3 view for WP apps, 2/3 view for WP games

        It is easy to bring WP8 apps to Windows 8 and possible to bring Win8 apps to high end WinPhones. The snap view would work well for phone apps with the smaller side being used for vertical apps and the larger side being used for horizontal games.
        • App compatibility across platforms

          MSFT promised app movement and data sharing across platforms - WinRT and Win8 tablets and WinPhones and Win PCs. Except that it did not happen. That led to 2 different stores - Windows store and WinPhone store. Windows 8 release needed developers to write two sets of apps for phones and tablets/PCs. The whole point of Metro is to force the PC end user to move to the Metro app that can also be used as is on a Win8/WinRT tablet. But this would not have been possible with WP8. Hopefully the kernel and SDK API changes in Windows Blue will lead to one unified API in one app that can be called as is to function differently based on the platform - tablet, phone, pc.
    • Depends on how it is written.

      Unlike other platforms, if you build your app using XAML (an xml markup language that defines the UI) which is at its core a vector based system, it should scale nicely. You can code with both c# and C++ and use XAML markup in your application. Unlike bitmap based graphics, vector graphics can scale infinitely(ish) in either direction.

      If you build your app in HTML and JS, as long as you keep your graphics defined using SVG and/or CANVAS, it should scale nicely as well. If, however, you generate a bunch of PNG files or JPEGS to use as your graphics, they won't scale well and you will end up with the problem Apple had when they introduced the new Retina iPad where app sizes ballooned.
    • I'd rather have stretched apps, than no apps

      Which is precisely the problem with the Windows RT platform. Allowing for Windows Phone apps on Windows RT would speed things along greatly.
    • Re: stretching

      Modern Android apps can detect if the device is a tablet, a phone, or a TV. Likewise an iOS app as far as I now works dynamically different if it is on an iPad compared to an iPod or phone. It's been established that MS needs work in this area, such as a 1080p Surface Pro vs. a 27 inch 1080p screen. So hopefully they would shore this up and get developers to update all of their Windows Phone apps.
  • If this is really the case

    If this is really case and it certainty may be then why not just use Windows Phone OS (instead Windows RT) in the first place as many of us had been hoping. Secondly, even on iOS it is rare that the same app doesn't well on all screen sizes wiithout a lot of work.

    Sounds exciting, but the whole Windows nonmenclature is just so polluted it's really hard to keep track. Maybe, they should just name it all Windows License so they can get on with a cohensive strategy.
    • It's not just about WP8 and WinRT; it's also about Windows 8 for PCs.

      If they can all be made to look and feel the same, then, it would be the most complete marriage of all form-factors and multiple OSes around.
      • Your solution is the problem

        They already look and feel the same. And then users try to use them as if they actually were the same. Bonk!
        Still Lynn
    • The reason is simple

      As we transitioned to a mobile OS world where consumers reach for their tablets devices and smart phones more so than they reach for their x86 PCs, for their computing needs, Microsoft felt Windows would become relevant. Hence the strategy to based everything on Windows (8).
  • I should hope it is

    Microsoft look to be pulling off what Apple haven't. The iPad and iPhone are brilliant, but Mac OS X is the weakness when it comes to full integration. Windows 8 devices more or less have mastered it, with the exception of the desktop. I still think Windows RT should kill off the desktop immediately, as well as Windows 8 moving away as much as possible from it, with the aim of discarding it as soon as they can. Once Microsoft makes the bold leap away from legacy technology, then Metro will rightly become the default way of doing things for most people, with Apple hopefully providing a strong alternative, so that both companies are kept on their toes to innovate further.
    • Eggs and Chickens, and The Counting Thereof

      They are posting a position for the person to lead the integration effort. So, Hasselhoff, do you figure the leader is hired by Presidents' Day and the full scale integration (in your face Apple) by Ides of March? A month enough time, you think? Shoot, why didn't they run this ad last August?

      Or could you be overlooking that with all of Microsoft's deep and talented bench, the call is made because... Hmm. Because everyone's busy with higher priority things? Or, perhaps, it just isn't that easy. I'm an idiot in these matters, but it seems to me that scaling and resolution of graphics across different screens presents a problem and the easiest solution (binaries contain all possible graphics and the os selects the correct one for the device's screen) leads to large binaries, which is a problem for the smaller mobile devices, as the fewer apps can be loaded.

      Remember the second most important lesson to my generation from Bucakaroo Banzai Across the 9th Dimension: if it was obvious, everyone would be doing it all the time.

      So, maybe "Microsoft look to be pulling off" is a premature judgment to make.

      A side thought that occurs to me, and perhaps this point is better addressed to Ms. Foley, are job postings becoming the new medium for vaporware announcements? I ask because it hasn't escaped my notice that the tech press reads these with more interest than fortune tellers bring to palms and tea leaves, so I would be surprised if publicists, looking for new billable services, haven't pitched the job announcement as the vaguest of vague high-visibility low-risk future product communications.
      • Very good points

        It IS a posting for a Test position, but with MS's lifecycle, they should be hiring for that right at the beginning of the project. The last paragraph was a bit confusing, but I think what's being said is that Blue will make some API changes that are critical path to the goal, but the unification happens later.

        Looks like Ubuntu will beat them to the punch (in terms of desktop/mobile unification, now scheduled to be on phones in October) ... not that winning by a few months matters in that context.
      • Are the hiring new

        It's hard to know if they're hiring for a new position, or if they're replacing a person. The in house expert could have gone to another company, gone crazy, died, or just been seen by ballmer as a rival for the CEO job. If they are replacing, then this project could be well under way. If it's a new position, then it is quite late.
  • Seems natural

    But if you look it as tablet applications and smartphones applications, Microsoft is yet again playing catchup with iOS and android.
    • Yet if you look harder...

      And they actually manage to completely unify the OS, they will have effectively leapfrogged both of them.

      OS unification is the Holy Grail of IT > Applications that can be transferred between the OS variants would be unbelieveably good in IT spaces.
      • Completely unify the OS

        Remember, the OS (a real OS, not Windows) is a set of routines that manage the hardware and APIs to communicate with the hardware and do useful things like networking etc from applications. This is the OS. Everything else is bloat.

        Therefore, if you take for example UNIX bases OSes, such as iOS or Android, they *are* unified across platforms. For example, iOS and OS X is the same OS but with a different set of APIs, especially the UI APIs (obviously, the UI of a tablet/phone is different than the UI of a desktop/server).

        So if you take your heard from the Microsoft FUD, you will discover that UNIX has achieved this for decades, and that includes Microsoft "competitors" such as Linux. Shock, eh?