Why Windows fragmentation will blow Windows to smithereens (cough)

Why Windows fragmentation will blow Windows to smithereens (cough)

Summary: Android fragmentation will wreck Android for smartphones and tablets just as much as Windows fragmentation ruined Windows for the PC.


The Windows operating system has been plagued with fragmentation ever since the 3.x branch of the OS was released on multiple PCs. (Ahem)

Android fragmentation will blow up Android just as much as Windows fragmentation has blown Windows to pieces.
(Image: Google)

The transition from XP to Vista, to Windows 7, and, most recently, both iterations of the newest version of Windows, 8 and RT, as well as all patch iterations and dot versions in between, has left a scattered landscape of PCs in various states of OS upgrade version malaise. (Cough)

This has created problems for Windows developers when coding applications, and when they test against different versions of the OS and different target devices. (Oh my!)

The introduction of multiple versions of PCs, as well as Windows virtual machines and emulators running in Mac OS X and Linux, has further complicated this situation by creating additional "forks" of Windows, which have their own unique application issues that developers need to address. (The horror! The horror!)

In case you haven't figured it out by now, I'm not being serious. While I have no fondness for Windows, I know quite well that — even though there are, for example, six major versions of Windows 7 — Windows is now and has been for years the number one desktop operating system.

Why, then, must the fact that there are multiple versions of Android lead to its being blown to smithereens? It seems like hardly a week can go by without someone proclaiming how terrible Android fragmentation is. Somehow, just like Windows back in its early days, Android keeps getting more and more popular.

Why? Because while operating system fragmentation is indeed a pain for developers, it's not nearly as much of an annoyance as some people would have you believe. Just like you can run pretty much any 32-bit Windows application — save Metro and RT-specific apps — on any version of Windows, you can run pretty much an Android app on any Android device.

Mind you, the app won't always work well. Anyone who runs smartphone-specific apps on tablets knows that, but they will run. Smartphone and tablet vendors know that and they like it. So long as they stick with Android as a foundation, they're guaranteed to have tens of thousands of applications from day one with every new device. Even companies that don't use Android, like BlackBerry, know that this is a smart move, which is why BlackBerry 10 comes with support for Android apps with its Dalvik implementation.

I can't see Samsung, HTC, or anyone else that matters in the hardware business trying to fork Android. For customers, there's just too much value in the common operating system foundation and the Google Play apps and store for vendors to ignore.

Software developers see it the same way. Sure, they're willing to support Apple iOS and Android. That's where the customers are. But support Tizen and Firefox OS and Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10 and Ubuntu? That's asking a lot more. Do you really expect them to rush to support Amazon Android, HTC Android, Facebook Android, and Samsung Android? I don't think so!

Look at the numbers today. According to ABI Research, 58 percent of 2013's 56 billion smartphone app downloads will be Android apps. Apple iOS will have 33 percent, and far, far behind, Microsoft's Windows Phone will have not quite 4 percent and BlackBerry will get 3 percent. So, who's going to write apps for less than 3 percent of the market? Nobody, that's who.

Let's be practical. The market can support two, maybe three major smartphone and tablet operating systems; after that, you're looking at marginal players.

Maybe there's room there for small players in some niches. Firefox and Ubuntu, for example, are aiming at the low-end range between feature phones and smartphones. I can see that. What I can't see is the successful Android ecosystem being carved into progressively smaller, more labor intensive, and less profitable portions.

The one company that might fork Android, but I doubt it would bother, is Amazon. It has a unique business model. For it, Android is not so much an operating system as it is a sales channel.

But, again, why would it bother? It has already tuned it to use Amazon Kindle Store instead of Google Play, so it has already accomplished its mission-critical goal. What on Earth could it have to gain by forking the operating system? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

Look at the PC market. For years, Windows has dominated, Mac OS X has had a significant single-digit stake, and Linux hangs on at about 1 percent of the marketplace. There are a lot of reasons that it's worked out this way, but Windows "fragmentation" was never a problem.

For both hardware OEMs and software programmers, the minor nuisance of supporting multiple versions of Windows was never a real issue. Supporting multiple, incompatible operating systems, however, is a problem. Which is why Mac OS X and Linux have remained niche desktop operating systems and why I suspect Windows RT, which is incompatible with other Windows versions, will never be successful.

So, with all that, do you really think Android hardware and software companies will break compatibility when there are many solid business reasons to keep using Android as their base? The Windows ecosystem companies weren't that foolish, and I don't think the Android ecosystem businesses are any dumber than they are.

Related stories

Topics: Android, Amazon, Tablets, Software Development, Smartphones, Samsung, Open Source, Linux, Google, Windows

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  • not to mention

    that OSX is just as fragmented as windows, if not more so. people go on & on about fragmentation on android compared to the more unified experience of iOS, but a unified OS is the exception, not the rule.
    • Exactly

      Good like being supported if you're still running Snow Leopard, let alone Leopard.
      • Juvenile as usual

        I think now SJVN beats AKH out as ZD's trollest fool.
        • Whilst I'm not a fan of the 'troll' terminology

          You may have a point. The sledge hammer sarcasm was slightly amusing, though we've been saying it in the comments for long enough, it is also miss-placed. For one you couldn't fork, let alone edit windows... Just pile crud on top of it. With android you can.

          I didn't get the last bit... Amazon are most likely to fork android? No they aren't; as listed they achieved their goal; why do extra work maintaining their own store??

          I think everyone know Samsung are most likely to fork or replace android. The have the biggest incentive. I Assume they have accountants? Well one of them is bound to ask why, if 90% of android sales are for them they need someone else's store? Is there motive? You bet... In several incarnations you could fork it to the point where the play store will not work. Then all that app money and ad revenue is yours, all yours.

          I'm not saying I think they'd do it. I don't really see it happening just yet, but they definitely have the most to gain.
          • *edit

            Amazon store was supposed to say OS ;)
    • Master Joe says...apple

      Apple is to blame for the fragmentation of OS X. They convince people that "it just works," and that no malware will ever harm you on a Mac. Now, there is a large percentage of Mac owners running versions that are no longer supported. At least that part is missing from Windows, as I don't hear about afraction of a percent of users running Windows 2000 anymore. Microsoft shot themselves in the foot by waiting so long between releases from xP to vista. What made matters worse is the bad public response to Vista (undeservingly so, I might add, as I was perfectly happy on vista for over a year, before I upgraded to Windows 7, where, again, I was perfectly happy, until upgrading to the Windows 8 Consumer Preview last August, then the final Pro version in October, and I've never looked back). One other part of the problem was the gap between Windows Phone 7 and 8. There are some people who were rather unhappy that they got left out in the cold. I'll admit that I was one of them, but my upgrade date came, and I got a Windows Phone 8X, and nwo I'm happy again. However, what bothers people with Android is that your brand new device might be at the end of its life in less than a year. With iOS, you don't ahve that fear, as, although not as robustly as the new model, your current iPhone can stand to run a few iterations of the iOS as it upgrades. Android is at the mercy of the OEMs (HTC, Samsung, etc.). Once a device goes out of life, it's over. The DNA or RAZR Max HD might be at the forefront today, but what about a year from now?

      I realize taht, with Moore's Law coming to an end, this may change, as phones won't become so rapidly more powerful as they have over the past couple of years. But, if you're running ICS, and your phone isn't getting Jelly Bean, you are left where you are, while the rest of the smartphone world moves ahead of you, with the wonderful and shiny new features of each new release.

      Yes, Windows si fragmented. However, major releases are much more few and far between, and the only limitation on your PC upgrading is whether or not you have the hardware to support it, whi9ch hasn't changed much since Vista came out. That said, the choice is also yours. With android, you don't always have a choice as to whether or nto you get a new version of the OS. HTC or Samsung might decide taht for you. With Windows, you can upgrade when you want, again, as long as you have at least the minimum hardware specs to support it. A PC might last you three to five years, at least (with some going upwards of seven to ten). A new smartphone, on the other hand, might only be good for a year or two, before people are getting antsy for an upgrade. When they can't get one, they get upset because they see the people around them getting their hands on the wonderful new toys that come bundled with each iteration, and that is part of why custom Android ROMs have appeared on places like XDA-Developers.

      One mroe thought on the matter is that Google tends to do this with all their products. Look at Chrome. It has been out for a short time, and hwo many versions has it gone through? Firefox did the same thing for a short time, and people got frustrated. Microsoft is moving to a more rapid release cycle, and it will likely be a difficult transition to make. But, there is a fine line between rapid release and just upping the version for no reason. If Google really put enough new features into each iteration of Chrome to justify it being a whole new major version upgrade, it didn't do much testing, to say the elast. Again, Microsoft stuck with IE 6 for how many years? The company has to become more agile, but there isn't a major tech player out there that has it down yet. I'd suggest that maybe apple is the closest to having a model taht works perfectly, but ti is also, by far, the msot restrictive. Comparing Android to Apple's iOS is a somewhat skewed apples to apples (no pun intended), as android runs on hundreds of handsets, while iOS runs on one. Windows Phone 8 has the same advantage of running on different handsets, which means taht HTC, Samsung, Nokia, etc. can "make it their own." If you want iOS, you MUST buy an iPhone. If you want OS X, you MUST buy a Mac, unless you are lucky enough to get your hands on one of the clones, before Apple sues the small company making it into oblivion.

      --Master Joe
      • Have to object to this statement

        " However, what bothers people with Android is that your brand new device might be at the end of its life in less than a year."

        Lots of people like their Android 2.1 - 2.4 phones after a couple years. A new version does not make your old version stop working, and there are still many thousands of apps available. In fact, I doubt that many people are even aware that their phone has been "at the end of its life" for a couple years now.
      • Interesting

        I have a clone, built it myself and it works awesome.
      • RE:

        Here are some tips if you want people to take your comments seriously:

        1. Use a spell checker. They are usually included in word processors.
        2. When you use parenthesis, do not write a paragraph between the beginning and closing parenthesis.
        3. There is no need to write a text wall for something which could have easily been done in less than 1/4 of the space.
        • htat's where proofreading comes in.

          Just like in my header, I mistyped that's. I type like he does, but I try to prooreda mine before hitting the submit button.
          I have a phone with 2.1, but the biggest problem is that for the local weather applications, I need 2.2 or above. I upgraded it to 2.1, but don't know if it can go higher w/o performance issues, or even if it is possible.
          My home PC is running XP and is at least 6 years old, and was doing just what I needed until a Java update boke my Windows Media Center, I have not tried to go back to an earlier date yet, I did try changing the Java version to no avail. That is one reason I have considered moving on up to W7. I see no need for W8, what little I have seen of it doesn't look like anything I want to mess with.
          I haven't used a UNIX base OS since I left AT&T over 20 years ago. A lot of things have changed since then.
          • proofreading

            I missed one in my post as well, "I try to prooreda mine before hitting the submit button."
            It should have read 'proofread' instead of proofreda.
    • gee

      IT's almost like they want to justify a very expensive purchase isn't it?
      Benjamin NElson
  • If Windows is fragmented, then so is OS X :-|

    It's all hyperbole. It's called "newer versions". Both platforms require developers to for now support two codes bases (Android 2.x vs. 4.x and Windows NT 5.x vs. Windows NT 6.x).
  • Very nice article

    I agree with most of it.
    Yes there are fragmentation issues about android but they are not as important as many want to make them.
    Part of the stuff that as made android huge, is what also fragments - diverse hardware, fast development, multiple hardware makers, resolutions going from 320x200 to full HD, ...
  • This bloated blogger can't write w/o bringing MSFT into it.

    He's not listed as a Microsoft blogger here at zdnet, yet he writes as many blogs that contain as many references of Windows and Microsoft as MJF. LOL.
    What a dolt.
    He's been doing this for his entire career (COUGH) and continues to use a very, very, very old picture of himself that is far from flattering.
    Why not show what you look like now there SJVN? Speaking of fragmentation....i believe your brain cells started the process a long, long, long time ago.
    How many actual IT professionals actually read this clown's ramblings? Does less than 3% sound about right?
    • You trolls can't tell when someone is being sarcastic?

      Step back and take a breath. Its easy to see who's the fanatic in this discussion.
      • Sarcasm

        Well, when there's no indication of sarcasm, then I guess it's a little easier not to see it.
        • Re: Well, when there's no indication of sarcasm...

          "The horror! The horror!" passes for sober comment in your book?
        • So you admit not reading the entire article?

          Specifically, just below where it says "The horror! The horror!":
          "In case you haven't figured it out by now, I'm not being serious."

          Spelt out in black and white, and you *still* didn't get it?
          • @ xuniL_z then why are you reading it?

            Don't tell me your an idiot?