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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User Rank: Apprentice
2/13/2014 | 3:33:21 PM
I find this disconcerting
Microsoft Windows "strategy" GETS muddy?  It been for some time now.  Maybe this article is mistitled a bit as it seems to talk about Windows phone and Windows apps.
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.
User Rank: Apprentice
2/13/2014 | 5:01:04 PM
Focus schmocus
The notion of focusing development on ANY particular platform is really misguided.  Using a tool like Xamarin you can pretty easily write for all platforms in .Net.  Slightly different looks for each platform, but the same business logic.  Even Microsoft is doing this - deploy ALL platforms at the same time with essentially the same codebase.
User Rank: Ninja
2/13/2014 | 8:22:57 PM
Re: I find this disconcerting
In theory. This sounds good, but then, so did Win 8. Unless Microsoft tags apps that are appropriate for each device, there will be serious problems. I can see people buying apps for their phone that won't run properly on them, and visa versa. Developers will need not only to build in proper support for a device, but for all devices. So e apps are just meant for phones, and the GUI is purposes for that. Using that app on the desktop will be a problem, even if they manage to try to work it out. Apple has over a million apps, but almost half are purposed for the iPad. The idea that phone apps will be equally good on a tablet, much less a desktop is nuts! The same thing is true the other way around. Developers will either need to write three apps, or somehow write code that includes much for all three, that installs just what each needs. That's not impossible, as Apple has proven, several times, that it can be done. But will they do it either way? Without evidence of greater takeup of the devices, they may not want to bother. As for Android support in Win 8. Well, just wow! That will be a real mess. Blackberry has been trying that to no great success. I do t see how that would benefit Microsoft at all. Possibly, in the short term, they may get a small boost. But what's to stop people from moving to Android the next time? Likely, they will able to just download the apps again, and likely their data will still be theirs to keep. This is no good. Historically, when a company does this, creep begins to set in, and after a while, dissatisfied customers move to the other platform. Seriously, a main rule of business is to never give your customer an easy way to leave you. Giving Android will make leaving easier. Microsoft has !wYs been about lock-in. This will give their customers a way to lock Microsoft out. I can see people trying so e Android apps, and thinking that it isn't bad. Over time they will get more free, or cheap Android apps, until almost everything they do will be with those Android apps. What then? This just shows that Microsoft is becoming as desperate as Blackberry.
User Rank: Apprentice
2/14/2014 | 1:10:32 AM
Re: I find this disconcerting
By making Nadella the CEO, MS sent a signal that the future of MS is in cloud based applications.

Successful transition to that future would first mean making MS-Office for Android. That way existing grip of MS-Office can be safeguarded for the future.

The other transition would be to offer Skype - essentially muddying Android's relations with Telcos.

Or, moving Skype first and seeing how it goes with Android and Telcos before moving MS-Office ;-)

Offering Visual Studio for Android may be a smash hit. However, there isn't much money to make there.

Everything else on the consumer side except Xbox will anyway die a natural death.
User Rank: Ninja
2/14/2014 | 8:33:25 AM
Android Apps on Windows Phone
I've read a number of interpretations of what "Android Apps on Windows Phone" means.  The most rational one is to enable Android application developers to use some kind of Microsoft cloud service that compiles their existing Android source code into a package suitable for installation on WinPhone 8 and subsequent submission to the Windows Store.

If this is what it means and the "packaged" Android app works well on WP8, seems like an excellent idea.  Both phones have the similar buttons so this shouldn't be trying to breed a cat with a fish.
User Rank: Ninja
2/14/2014 | 8:58:47 AM
Re: I find this disconcerting
I run Bluestacks on my Windows tablet, but honestly I wish it didn't have to be that way.  I like the direction that Microsoft is going with bringing the same UI to every platform and mixing Android into the offerings seems like they are admitting defeat.  I would rather see them make development for the Win 8 platforms easier or more attractive.   I don't think Android is going away but that doesn't mean Microsoft can't be competitive. 
User Rank: Ninja
2/14/2014 | 10:17:33 AM
HTML5 vs App Stores
I don't see how a combined store or app for the two OSes can work.  You end up making compromises that ultimately destroy the real power of the application (or you make them huge and bloated they neither fit nor run on the average device/machine).  From that perspective, pushing the web, HTML 5 and more makes more sense.  This is where we were headed before the success of  the iPhone and the App Store.  Maybe we can return there, but its doubtful.  Universally running applications are not in Apple, Google or Microsoft's "best" interest.
Drew Conry-Murray
Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
2/14/2014 | 10:20:09 AM
Re: I find this disconcerting
I think Microsoft's problem is that it has too much money. It can afford to fight a long, losing battle on the mobile front by trying to make Windows a robust competitor for phones and tablets. But consumers have spoken, and they just aren't interested.
User Rank: Ninja
2/14/2014 | 1:27:00 PM
Re: HTML5 vs App Stores
You are right on. The two big differences between phone and tablet/laptop is screen size and processing power. Over time, processing power will increase on phone but not size. Well, unless some kind of holographic projection technology becomes the norm anyway.

With HTML5 and using Model-View-Controller architecture, you can share a lot of code between these form factors. HTML5 is getting better at offline support and using native access (no browser to wrap the app). But you have to design your app much different for a small screen versus a larger screen, if you truly want the best experience in each world.

If these middleware tools get better at generating the proper Views needed for each form factor, maybe we'll get where we can write one code base. But we are not close to that yet. It's a facsinating area to watch, these small mobile screens have caused as much disruption in the development process since GUI replaced CUI. What you learned you have to learn all over again.
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