October 6 is the retail launch of Windows Mobile 6.5-based phones from a variety of handset makers and carriers. But it's actually something bigger: It's the kick-off of Microsoft's plan to convince users that Windows is (or, at least, should be) everywhere they are.
I'm not going to repeat what lots of other blogs and sites already have, in terms of a feature-by-feature review of Windows Mobile 6.5. (Gizmodo's review has screen shots and details and ends by noting that the Zune HD team has completely one-upped the Windows Mobile team -- kind of ironic, given the Zune software team is now part of MediaRoom/Media Center and the Zune Hardware folks are part of Windows Mobile.)
Today is the day when Microsoft and its phone partners start using officially the "Windows Phone" branding for Windows Mobile phones. Windows Mobile is still the name that will be used for the operating system powering phones; Windows Phones is the uber-brand for all phones running Windows Mobile, regardless of the carrier.
That change may seem like semantics, but it's not. It's key to the three-screens-and-a-cloud mantra that Microsoft officials are repeating these days. The idea is you have Windows on your PC, Windows on your phone, Windows on your TV and Windows in the cloud and because it's one big Windows world, everything works seamlessly.
The reality is not quite like the ads. The operating systems powering these different Windows platforms aren't all the same. Windows Mobile -- for now, at least -- is still based on the Windows Embedded CE core. CEO Steve Ballmer lamented to TechCrunch recently:
"We have one and a half operating systems, Windows and Windows Mobile. Windows Mobile is kind of a half because it’s not entirely the same as Windows. And everyday, I say I’d love to get those two things to share more."
But until Microsoft can figure out how to do that, the company will have to rely on user-interface similarities and common services to further the company's "One Windows' message.
Example: Notice the way that Windows Media Center, the Zune HD and Windows Mobile 6.5 all use the same kind of vertical text menus as their primary interface. (However, because OEMs can and do layer their own interfaces over Windows and Windows Mobile, this UI consistency, in cases where it does exist, often gets buried.)
There will be more examples going forward, as Microsoft makes its Zune Video Marketplace, Zune music-subscription service and other premium services common across multiple Windows platforms. But until then, Microsoft's "Life Without Walls" message still has some pretty solid walls in its path.
Do you think Microsoft will ever get to the point where Windows is the one and only OS that the company is supporting across platforms? Does it actually matter whether the Softies can do so?