Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says his company is "streamlining" Windows into a converged OS, and "right-sizing" its device efforts. But what does this really mean?
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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during this week's earnings call that the next version of Windows will "streamline" from three operating systems -- Windows, Windows RT, and Windows Phone -- "into a single, converged [OS] for screens of all sizes." He also detailed Microsoft's scaled-down device strategy, including its integration of Nokia, a subject Nadella had previously broached in only the broadest terms.
Windows 8 earned its reputation as a flop largely because it threw a hodgepodge of interfaces at users. Microsoft's Surface tablets, meanwhile, remain a controversial and money-losing experiment (though, to give credit where it's due, company execs say the newly-released Pro 3 is outselling earlier models). Microsoft also just laid off half the workers who joined in the $7 billion Nokia merger. Given the somewhat chaotic context surrounding Microsoft's OS and device strategies, it's worth exploring what exactly Nadella plans to change.
Regarding the next version of Windows -- which is codenamed Threshold and likely will hit the market as Windows 9 -- Nadella wasn't talking about a single UI that magically scales across devices. There won't be a desktop on your phone, and it's unlikely that touch-oriented Live Tiles will appear by default when Threshold loads on PCs and laptops.
When Nadella says Microsoft is making "one" Windows, he still means there will be different versions for different device types and different groups of users. If that sounds confusing, here's Nadella's more nuanced description of the transition: "We will unify our stores, commerce, and developer platforms to drive a more coherent user experience and a broader developer opportunity."
When asked for more details during a Q&A with analysts, Nadella said, "Now we have one team with a layered architecture that enables us to, in fact, for developers, bring that collective opportunity with one store, one commerce system, one discoverability mechanism." He added that Windows versions will still be segmented, with multiple variations targeted at enterprises, as well as low-cost and free OEM versions to drive manufacturing of budget devices. Nadella said his plan has "more to do with how we are bringing teams together to approach Windows as one ecosystem very different than we, ourselves, have done in the past."
Nadella's statement wasn't necessarily news as much as a natural extension of the "universal apps" concept the company announced last April at Build, its developers conference. Universal apps allow developers to target multiple form factors from largely the same codebase and tools. No one at Microsoft thinks apps should behave the same way on a smartphone that they do on a traditional, mouse-reliant PC. But users' data should be able to translate across devices, and reconstitute itself according to the strengths of whatever gadget the user chooses. Before, developers had to laboriously engineer such cohesion bit by bit, essentially building multiple versions of an app from scratch, using different tools and frameworks for each. Now, developers will be able to largely re-use code, and to create experiences that move from device to device as easily as users -- at least that's Microsoft's pitch.
Within Microsoft, meanwhile, engineers will work together more closely. It makes sense for OneNote or Excel to have different UI elements on tablets than on conventional PCs, but it doesn't make sense for the two different teams to design two different apps, and then worry after the fact about uniting them. It also makes sense for Microsoft to release great versions of OneNote on other platforms, but to bake it and other services deeply into Windows, so as to provide the most grounds-up, integrated, and productive experience. When Nadella talks about a unified Windows, this is the kind of change he's talking about.
Based on the most recent unconfirmed reports, online leaks, and the few specific details Microsoft has teased, Threshold will recognize the kind of
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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