More on Microsoft's SKU-morphic Windows vision

More on Microsoft's SKU-morphic Windows vision

Summary: Microsoft's plans for Windows SKUs is undergoing a transformation. Here's the latest on what the Softies may be planning with new Windows versions, moving forward.


There's skeumorphism. And then there's SKU-morphism -- as in a few key next-generation Windows SKUs, which may morph before they debut.


As I've blogged previously, while Microsoft is moving toward a "One Windows" vision, that vision is more along the lines of one Windows core, but multiple SKUs, or versions, according to my contacts. (SKU actually stands for stock-keeping unit, for those wondering.)

This new strategy doesn't necessarily mean there will be a different SKU for every kind of Windows form factor out there. Instead, as Microsoft moves forward with its "Threshold" Windows wave, there might be just a few Windows SKUs built on top of a common Windows foundation, I'm hearing from my contacts.

It's definitely still early days for Threshold, which is supposedly slated to begin arriving around Spring 2015. Given all the management changes at Microsoft, things could change. But here's supposedly what the Softies are thinking at this point.

With Threshold, my sources say, there could be three primary SKUs: A "modern" consumer SKU; a traditional/PC SKU; and a traditional enterprise SKU.

The modern (i.e., Metro-Style/Windows Store) consumer SKU would be focused on WinRT apps. (WinRT, in this case, refers to the API set at the heart of Windows, not the current Windows RT operating system that runs on ARM.) It may end up targeting ARM- and Intel-based devices both. It would be updated frequently by Microsoft through the Windows Store.

This SKU supposedly wouldn't be optimized to run Win32 apps. However, my contact said there's the possibility that on some PC-like form factors, there may be a "desktop" that is more easily navigable for keyboard/mouse users.

This modern SKU would be the SKU for Windows Phones, ARM-based Windows tablets/PCs, phablets and other kinds of tablets. Some PCs also may run this SKU, providing Microsoft with a more head-to-head competitor to Chromebooks, as these machines would be more secure and locked down (thanks to the way Microsoft built the WinRT/Windows Store model).

The modern SKU is what has previously been rumored as a forthcoming Microsoft hybrid Windows Phone OS/Windows RT operating system.

A more traditional consumer SKU would be aimed at the current PC market. This SKU would include a desktop and be customized so that mouse/keyboard users will be able to continue to have some semblance of productivity and familiarity with Windows. This SKU also would be updated regularly and often through the Windows Store.

There also will likely be some kind of traditional Enterprise SKU, according to my contacts, that would include all the usual business bells and whistles, like support for Win32 apps via a Desktop environment, support for group policy, device management and more. This SKU would be aimed primarily at traditional PCs, tablets and other devices and also allow users to run "Modern"/Windows Store apps.

The Enterprise SKU might end up being for volume licensees only. This might be a SKU that doesn't update frequently/constantly through the Windows Store. Instead, it might be subject to IT policies/approvals, making enterprise users who don't want silent, automatic updates a lot happier. Microsoft Windows chief Terry Myerson hinted at something like this during his recent Credit Suisse tech conference appearance.

There will likely be some additional device-specific Windows "Threshold" SKUs for embedded devices and usages, such as point-of-sale terminals, kiosks, etc., given that the Embedded team is now part of Myerson's organization.  But these SKUs won't be offered directly to consumers or business users directly.

Microsoft is attempting to straddle a fence here and continue to advance Windows as a "modern" mobile platform, while not disenfranchising their huge existing base. The big takeaway here is there may be more concessions coming to folks who felt like Windows 8 went too far in turning Windows into a touch-first, tablet-centric operating system. To me, this is a welcome furthering of the changes that began more conservatively last year with the re-emergence of the Start button and allowance of boot to desktop by default

Update: Here are a couple of related tidbits, courtesy of sources of Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott. Thurrott said he's hearing the revised Desktop will allow users to run multiple Metro appson the Desktop. That'd mean windows comes back to Windows. Plus, he's hearing the Start Menu might return, too, supplementing the currently Start-Menuless Start Button -- another plus for those struggling with the current Windows 8.x navigation scheme.

Topics: Windows 8, IT Policies, 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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  • This is a Welcome Change

    I could never understand why Windows Phone didn't run windows RT for a more consistent user experience much like going from iPhone to iPad. This would have also taken care of the app problem.
    • let's not forget

      that RT launched in Oct 2012, WP7 Launched Oct 2010 so they would have had to wait two more years before launching a modern phone OS. As a WP8 user I look forward to the idea of moving over to an RT based phone. Especially one like the Nokia 1520 where you have a beautiful 6" display and the ability to run WP or RT/8.x Metro Apps.
    • Don't be stupid

      Windows Phone is a phone OS. RT is a tablet OS. This is a PROBLEM with iOS, and Apple even has issues with how to market the iPad. iPads are not that great. I hardly know anyone that actually uses their iPad, simply because they get tired of it's shortcomings. RT does NOT belong on a phone. Just because you think of something doesn't mean it's a good idea.
      • Hmm

        If they took Windows RT and put it on a phone in present form it would be a disaster. Nobody is suggesting they take it and slap it on a phone in present form. but having a desktop OS, a tablet OS, and a phone OS is too much. The line between smartphones and tablets is getting thinner, why not make them programatically similar, able to run the same apps and behave similarly, instead of investing into the ecosystem only to have three devices that behave remarkably different? That doesn't make sense to me. As someone whose life revolves around the MS ecosystem I can see the benefit of merging the mobile operating systems.
        • Hmm

          Hey Smiler. When Win8 came out, I hated it. I played with it for a year. I still don't care for the thing (particularly as a desktop O/S) but I'm hating it less and watching with interest. Like you, I've been MS-centric for a long time (Is 30+ years long enough?) so, for awhile, was feeling kind of - how would you put it? "Kicked under the bus"? However I *think* I see what they're driving at so I'm building up my lab a bit to include a Windows8 Dev machine so I can follow the thing and research it without disturbing the rest of my stuff. This one may really sneak up on us. They may be thinking longer term up there in Redmond that any of us will give them credit for.
          Max Peck
      • Therer is no reason why the same OS cannot run on both ...

        ... smartphone and tablet.

        After all, the iPod Touch is basically an iPhone w/o cellular capabilities. The iPad is essentially a giant iPod touch.

        Today's smartphones have essentially the same hardware as today's tablets. The great divide is that smartphones and tablets are ARM-based and PCs are generally Intel (x86) based.

        Intel doesn't want that to change - and neither does AMD.
        M Wagner
        • multi-os platform solution

          windows started out with commands that were independent of processor with advent of apps and cloud technologies,what is the problem with making all devices,rather they be,phone,p.c.,tablet,watch,glasses,or what ever,run with common abilities? how much do you need to know? my money is on glasses that do it all,cell,compute,and gps mapping!
      • Problems with iOS?

        I'm currently on my second iPad (3rd gen, had 1st gen until end of last year) plus an iPhone 4S. Both running iOS7, and I regularly use both. I certainly don't feel held back by either device. That's not to say that there aren't some things that I'd like improved - the fact that each app that can open web pages does so in its own web view, with no central repository for login details, is a pain at times - but nothing show-stopping.
  • Server and embedded SKUs

    Is server part of the OS group, or is that still separate? They also have a lot of flavors of both server and embedded. I hope they can consolidate these as well. For example, I never understood why they needed a separate Foundation vs Essentials server SKU. In embedded it's out of control. It would think they could have one Windows CE-based version and one "full Windows" version -- having specific SKUs for automotive vs. handheld vs. POS etc. doesn't make sense to me. I would think OEMs could simply customize the OS components included in their devices, and business customers could lock them down to only run approved apps.
    • No Need for Special Embeded Version

      It seems to me that any version could be embedded. I have worked with oscilloscopes that had the full Wintel system embedded in it. It had all the rights set so you could do nothing else but use it as a scope.

      I have also worked with and done software for Windows CE. I have always felt that Windows CE was just to have a version that could run on something other than a full blown Intel processor. Now that at the core Windows is being made to run on different processors I see not need for a special version of Windows for embedded. You can set rights to any version and restrict it as much as you want.
      • embed core to accept apps from cloud technologies.[similar to web links]

        seems that with windows 95,that desktop was made to resemble a webpage,why not design devices to run given apps with today's technologies.[micro-sd memory for app storage] ios,android or windows mobile os,should have/share common is in the app not the device.ppu[pay per use]
  • Desktop SKUs

    Unrelated to my other comment, I hope they make it more user-friendly to run modern apps on the desktop -- like putting tiles on the desktop, allowing shortcuts/icons to modern apps, allowing them to run in windows, etc. Similarly, I hope they make it easier for traditional desktop apps to integrate with the modern environment -- for example being able to use more of the WinRT APIs, being able to actually download and install signed desktop apps from the store, support live tiles, etc. If they integrate in both directions, you wouldn't have this "two worlds" problem, even for users that still need the power and flexibility of a SKU that includes the desktop.
    • I'd like that too

      Some, but not all, WinRT interfaces are desktop available.

      There does not need to be all these separate API worlds for different approaches. The great ideas from n tier programming are at home even in local computing architectures.... the presentation layer should not need to talk to different kinds of logic tiers (whether those are your own or Microsoft's.) You should be able to use one single set of APIs for the whole thing, and they can govern the security aspect through the app approval process, not by siloing the development models.
      • Yes!

        Exactly. The UI probably wouldn't apply. The same would probably also be true of things around the application's lifecycle, since desktop apps (and other things like services) can just sit open forever. At the end of the day, unless there is a specific reason that a specific API doesn't make sense for the desktop, everything should be shared. The same is true for .NET BCL libraries -- differences between the environments (server, desktop, modern/WinRT, phone, even Silverlight) should be the absolute minimum possible. Unless there's a *really* good reason to have a difference, there probably shouldn't be one.
    • Definitely agree.

      That is the way Windows 8 should have originally been created for desktops. Metro apps should be able to run in Windows on the full desktop. Tiles should have worked like gadgets worked in Windows 7. A Windows 8 that worked like that wouldn't have received the desktop user backlash that their "touch-centric" Frankenstein Metro received. Metro works fine on tablets and phones, but it simply ruins desktops.
    • And Modern app without store

      I'd also like to be able to install Modern app without having to rely on the store. Maybe as an option turned off by default like in Android, but still be there.

      I'd like to create an app and just give it away without having to subscribe to the store to do it.
      • Not going to see this...

        Android has a reputation of being unsecured and prone to viruses. In fact when they make all those stats about the % of viruses on Android, what is not discussed is the fact that 95% of those are from devices in Russia and Asia that are using 3rd party stores/apps and that's the infection vector.

        Personally I have no problem with apps being vetted although Apple set a bad precedence with their 30% mafia cut off the top.
        Rann Xeroxx
    • YES!

      What I don't like about 8.0/8.1 is the tyrannical separation of the two worlds. Integration is key for me, so you should be able to have the goodness of metro but not sacrifice the multitasking/windows overlap, cut and paste, etc of the desktop.
      • dual-quad core technology in mobile devices

        yes 2 quad-core risc-cpu's that are embeded to do certain operations[cell,voice,,g.p.s./mapping,storage,and system house keeping]

        any takers?
    • That's already possible.

      Just get Stardock's Modern Mix and you can run Modern UI apps in a windows on the desktop. Windows 8 is the best os MS has made to date. It's the best of both new world and old world. Too many folks can't seem to remove the pacifier from their face to see this simple fact.