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6/15/2011
02:39 PM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
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Microsoft's Grand Unification Plan For PCs, Phones, Tablets

Redmond is looking to ditch its scattershot approach to new platforms and deliver an end-user experience that is, for better or worse, uniquely Microsoft across all devices.

Microsoft has for years exhibited a split personality around its desktop and mobile products. Its PC environment has been defined by the familiar Windows icons, while its mobile platforms have undergone a series of revisions. The most recent, Windows Phone 7, broke from Windows Mobile and the Disneyfied KIN phone with its distinctive Live Tiles interface.

Get ready for this scattershot approach to end next year when Microsoft introduces the Windows 8 client, along with its first true tablets and the second generation of Windows Phone. Microsoft for the first time is looking to unify its various operating systems with a common look and feel that reflects the fact that users, from office workers to gamers, now want to jump freely between a range of devices without sacrificing familiarity.

"We definitely have a strategy to have a great family of products in 2012," said Terry Myerson, corporate VP for the Windows Phone group, in an exclusive interview with InformationWeek editors at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus. "A family of products that are going to be familiar to the end user, and work well together. Coming together is an interesting kind of thing."

Live Tiles is at the center of Microsoft's unification plan. It will make the jump from Windows Phone to Windows 8-based desktops, laptops, and tablets. Live Tiles are big, blocky icons that display real-time information, such as the number of new messages in a user's Outlook or Facebook inbox or the local weather, on the home screen.

"We don't think people should have to give up things they know to deal with a new form factor," said Windows group president Stephen Sinofsky, speaking earlier this month at the All Things D conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. On the application side, all of the new Windows platforms will be able to run cloud or client-based versions of Office, SharePoint, Xbox Live, and other familiar Microsoft tools and services—and share files and data between devices.

It's not just consumer and business end-users Microsoft is wooing with its uniformity pitch. It thinks that offering a common environment across desktops, phones, and tablets will help attract developers who've come of age in the mobile era—and lure them away from rivals like Google.

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