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8/26/2014
04:40 PM
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Windows Threshold May Merge Windows Phone, RT

Microsoft's upcoming Windows Threshold operating system reportedly will merge Windows Phone and Windows RT into one user interface for ARM-based mobile devices.

Microsoft Office For iPad Vs. iWork Vs. Google
Microsoft Office For iPad Vs. iWork Vs. Google
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Since last year, reports have claimed Microsoft officials plan to merge Windows Phone and Windows RT -- among the least popular of all major mobile platforms -- into one operating system. Company execs have sketchily alluded to such a plan without providing any confirmation or concrete details. A new report, however, claims that the next version of Windows, codenamed Threshold, will come in a version for hardware equipped with ARM processors; that is, for Windows Phone and Windows RT mobile devices.

Low-cost, low-energy ARM chips power the vast majority of mobile devices, but Microsoft, whose operating systems traditionally have run on x86-based Intel processors, has been unable to popularize ARM-based versions of Windows. No OEM other than Microsoft currently supports Windows RT. Although Microsoft has recently galvanized support among its smartphone partners, Windows Phone accounted for only 2.5% of the smartphone market in the second quarter of 2014, according to the research firm IDC. Despite these struggles, Microsoft execs maintain Windows has a future on ARM.

[Is time running out for Windows Phone? Read Windows Phone: More High-End Devices Coming Soon.]

Later this fall, Microsoft is expected to publicly preview the next version of Windows for Intel-based devices, but ARM fans reportedly will have to wait until early next year. According to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, who has a good track record for pre-release Microsoft information, the ARM-based version of Threshold will be released as a public preview in January or February, and will run on both Windows RT and Windows Phone devices.

The current version of Windows RT includes a water-down desktop UI, which Microsoft has said was necessary to port Office from the desktop version to ARM devices. By early next year, Microsoft is expected to release touch-first versions of Office for Windows, however. Consistent with this expectation, the ZDNet report claims "Threshold" for ARM will not include any desktop interface.

Earlier this summer, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said all Windows versions would soon join "into a single, converged [OS] for screens of all sizes," a statement that suggests a Windows Phone-Windows RT merger is indeed coming. In an interview last week, InformationWeek asked Windows Phone director Greg Sullivan about Threshold plans for Windows Phone. He offered only, "The engineering team has been doing prodigious amounts of work," and, "My expectation is that good work will continue."

An alleged screenshot of the new Threshold Windows operating system, leaked last month. (Source: Myce.com)
An alleged screenshot of the new Threshold Windows operating system, leaked last month. (Source: Myce.com)

The Threshold preview expected this fall for Intel devices, meanwhile, reportedly will include two features Microsoft has teased: a Start menu, whose omission was one of Windows 8's most criticized elements, and the ability to run Modern apps in floating windows on the desktop, like legacy apps. According to unconfirmed reports from sources that have reliably reported pre-release information in the past, Threshold will automatically detect what kind of device it is running on. Traditional PCs and notebooks will get a new desktop interface, tablets will get a revamped version of the Modern Start Screen, and two-in-one devices such as the Surface Pro will present a user interface based on whether a keyboard is attached.

Neither the desktop nor tablet interface is expected to include Windows 8's Charms menu, but the desktop UI could include support for virtual desktops like those in OS X's Spaces feature. The fall preview might not include new desktop UI elements that will be included in the final release, according to a report published by the website Neowin, which also said Microsoft is conducting a limited technical preview with corporate customers before launching the public version.

Reports are that Microsoft might make Threshold free to both Windows 7 and 8 users. Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP earlier this year but has had trouble persuading all users to upgrade; around a quarter of PC users still rely XP, according to Web-tracking firm Net Applications. By making Threshold free to Windows 7 users, Microsoft might avoid repeating this trouble.

It's also unclear if Threshold will be branded as Windows 9. Many expect a new version number, simply because Microsoft needs to distance the next edition from Windows 8's reputation as a flop. Microsoft recently revealed that it will begin deploying new OS features and fixes every month, as it already does with security patches, instead of updating Windows in large chunks every few years. As Foley noted, this approach could mean Microsoft will simply continue updating Threshold in perpetuity, rather than releasing Windows 10, Windows 11, and so on.

Microsoft execs have previously noted that consumers and enterprises respond differently to operating system changes, so it's anyone's guess how customers will react to the new update technique. Some evidence, including Microsoft job postings, indicates the company is preparing a cloud-oriented Windows option that could involve subscriptions, like Office 365.

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
8/29/2014 | 4:47:34 PM
Re: Competitive Problem
@hazydave,

Great comment! Thank you for sharing,


I do have a question (and perhaps the community can provide some feedback)

How come Windows tablets, running Windows 8.1 (not RT) haven't faired better? I recently played a little with the Toshiba Encore, and the fact that it was a full blown working windows 8.1, I really liked it...it's great for note taking and you can practically do anything (in the sense of being a good companion device)

Wo will windows 9 provide a better boost? Or kill any future opportunities for Window tablets to make there mark?
hazydave
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hazydave,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/28/2014 | 1:13:27 PM
Competitive Problem
Microsoft was confused in making a split between tablet and phone in a world where no one else really does. Android is Android -- applications are designed to run on phone when on a phone and tablets when on a tablet. Apple does have tablet-only apps, but also runs every phone app on their tablet and allows apps that work on both in the native mode of each. 

For consumers, that's about costs and consistency -- same stuff on both devices, only buy it once. For developers, that's about one coding effort and one binary rather than multiple. Both are against Microsoft, and it doesn't help that they had basically no market presence in mobile anyway. And what they might have had was largely self-destrusted by the Windows Phone 7 fiasco (non-upgradeable hardware and a dead-end API). 

Microsoft also kind of torpedoed themselves on apps. With very little market, they paid select major app companies to do ports of some popular apps. Those companies, expecting little actual income, look at the Microsoft funding as their complete pay-off for those applications. They don't do much in the way of updates, and that one app doesn't lead to another -- they're waiting for a Microsoft check for that next one, too. And those major companies in there keeps the sort of smaller companies -- the kind that built both iOS and Android markets into their current juggernaut positions -- from feeling safe about entering the Windows mobile market. 
Sheetal.Pandey
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Sheetal.Pandey,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/28/2014 | 2:52:36 AM
Re: OS Updates
Microsoft tried their level best to make its name in Smartphone but somehow it didnt click..people are not able to associate WIndows with Smartphone..May be it was their  long for PCs that may be the reason.SOmetimes perception also matters a lot..
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
8/27/2014 | 10:38:22 PM
OS Updates
"Microsoft recently revealed that it will begin deploying new OS features and fixes every month, as it already does with security patches, instead of updating Windows in large chunks every few years."

This sounds like a support nightmare, not to mention how it could work out if you're a software developer trying to keep your prdouct functioning on an ever-changing OS. I can't even begin to imagine how this will work.
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
8/27/2014 | 10:16:26 AM
Re: They're doing it again!
Ditto - I refuse to believe it until I see it.  And if I see it I still probably won't believe it.  I am an early adopted with most all technologies except the ones that start with 'Microsoft'...
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
8/27/2014 | 9:58:38 AM
They're doing it again!
So, Microsoft has pretended that Windows ran happily on all devices in the past, and now they're doing it again. Windows on ARM will be different than Windows on x86. The question is how different it will be for ARM tablets and phones. There will be differences, as has been reported elsewhere.
pcharles09
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pcharles09,
User Rank: Moderator
8/27/2014 | 12:12:21 AM
Re: get rid of RT
@Michael E,

They should use "Windows" the same way Apple uses "i" for all their products. See how that works out.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 7:30:55 PM
Re: get rid of RT
I get the feeling they might just call everything "Windows" (though I expect phrases such as "Windows tablet" or "Windows Phone" will endure). I'll be surprised if any products still have the RT suffix once Threshold launches.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 7:16:07 PM
get rid of RT
The "RT" designation is just confusing. The sooner MS gets rid of it, the better.
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