Microsoft's Windows Strategy Gets Muddy - InformationWeek

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Microsoft's Windows Strategy Gets Muddy

Microsoft reportedly doubles down on its own platforms while also taking a hard look at Android.

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Indications of Microsoft's push to update its Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8 operating systems continue to mount. Expected new features include a long-awaited notification center for Windows Phone and tweaks to make Windows 8.1's touch-oriented Modern UI more palatable to mouse-and-keyboard users.

However, a new leak suggests Microsoft is barreling toward one of its new platforms' most anticipated milestones: the merging of the Windows Phone and Windows app stores. Paradoxically, reports also say Microsoft is considering opening Windows to Android apps -- a move that could undermine the appeal of a combined app store.

A unified app store hasn't shown up in leaked Windows update builds, but Twitter user @AngelWZR, a known leaker of pre-release Windows information, posted images that indicate Microsoft is hard at work on one. The images, allegedly taken from a Microsoft presentation for developers, promise not only a single app store but also a version of Visual Studio that will allow developers to target both Windows and Windows Phone without having to write separate apps for each.

[Details emerge on Microsoft's latest Windows update. Read Microsoft Windows 8.1 Update Takes Shape.]

Windows and Windows Phone updates will reportedly debut around April, when Microsoft will hold its Build conference for developers. It's not clear whether the unified app store will launch that soon. The roadmap reportedly already includes rough plans to launch Windows 9 in early 2015.

As for Android, The Verge, citing unnamed sources, reported that Microsoft is "seriously considering" opening Windows and Windows Phone to Google's app ecosystem. ZDnet subsequently published a corroborating report, which also cited unnamed sources familiar with Microsoft's plans.

A purported Microsoft presentation slide promises a unified Windows Phone-Windows app store and development pipeline.(Source: @AngelWZR)
A purported Microsoft presentation slide promises a unified Windows Phone-Windows app store and development pipeline.
(Source: @AngelWZR)

The Verge said Microsoft insiders are divided on the idea; some dissenters contend it could doom the Windows platform. There has been substantial speculation that Nokia, whose device business Microsoft is acquiring, could release an Android phone soon. Those alleged plans have provoked mild debate, but if Microsoft took the more radical step of welcoming Android into Windows, the ensuing controversy could be fierce.

The company's app ecosystem lags far behind Apple and Google offerings, and a unified app store could help address this deficit. But what incentive would developers have to focus on native Windows apps if Microsoft embraced Android, as well? This question was raised last month when Intel announced at CES that it had developed a "dual OS" chip that could run both Windows and Android natively, enabling users to switch between the two quickly with the click of a button.

"I think [dual OS] won't be necessary if Microsoft gets its act together," Carolina Milanesi, who specialized in mobile devices as an analyst at Gartner and now is director of insight at Kantar Worldpanel, told us at that time.

Milanesi said a dual OS reinforces the perception that Windows is useful only for legacy software. "What good does that do? How is that helping Microsoft stay relevant?" Rather than stacking up quasi-solutions to fundamental problems, Microsoft needs to find a foundation that convinces people to "actually choose to spend time" with Windows.

Moreover, earlier experiments with Windows and Androids haven't exactly set the world on fire. AMD and BlueStacks partnered last year to allow Android apps to run on Windows 8 devices, but if any would-be customers cared, the sentiment hasn't translated into meaningful gains in marketshare.

With Satya Nadella taking over as CEO, it's possible Microsoft is simply putting all options on the table. The company is in strong shape overall, but its Windows strategy clearly isn't working, due to problems with the product itself and external disruptions such as Google's recent pact with VMware to run virtualized Windows desktops on Chromebooks. Time will tell which path Microsoft takes, but with new leaks and speculation from well-placed sources emerging almost daily, Nadella will undoubtedly face formidable expectations when he finally addresses developers in April.

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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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Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
2/13/2014 | 4:22:04 PM
Re: I find this disconcerting
Yes, perhaps muddier would have been more appropriate

But to clarify your point about Windows apps and Windows phone apps: The article discusses both of them because the Windows strategies described in recent leaks pertain equally to both platforms.
  • One report indicates developers will soon be able to write an app once (or close to it), and then deploy it throughout the Windows ecosystem-- phones, tablets, PCs, whatever.
  • Likewise, the Windows Phone and Windows app stores will allegedly merge. Though this development showed up again this week, it is a long-running rumor, and it makes sense; in terms of most apps, it's arbitrary to distinguish phablets from small tablets. Plus, combining app stores automatically enriches the variety of titles available to users of both platforms. User should also be able to find apps more easily than ever. It wouldn't exactly bring the Live Tile ecosystem up to par with iOS and Android, but it would be a step in that direction.
  • The Android report also applies to both Windows Phones and Windows 8 devices (though this is presumably of most interest to tablet users).

In a way, in other words, Microsoft's "Windows" strategy seems to be evolving to encompass phones, tablets and PCs. Microsoft's strategy will still vary in certain ways across form factors, so there will be a time to talk about Microsoft's PC strategy as distinct from its tablet strategy, and so on. But in terms of future app development, the company (at least if these reports are accurate) is streamlining the entire ecosystem.
Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
2/18/2014 | 12:23:08 AM
If Microsoft was able to successfully attract game developers to develop exclusive hits for the XBox, they should be able to do the same with app developers for Win8.

Keyword: should
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