Microsoft moves to unify Windows, Windows Phone, Windows RT
Microsoft’s head of devices, Julie Larson-Green, has foretold of a future where there are no longer three different versions of Windows. ”We have the Windows Phone OS. We have Windows RT and we have full Windows,” Larson-Green said at the UBS Global Technology Conference. “We’re not going to have three,” she mysteriously added. Most journalists are taking this to mean that Windows RT is at the end of its short and pitiful life. I think this is bigger than that, though: This is confirmation that all three of Microsoft’s operating systems are going to be killed off, replaced with a new, consolidated and unified OS that spans phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops.
This prophetic little tidbit from Larson-Green is the second time that Microsoft has telegraphed its intent to consolidate its various operating systems. Earlier in the year, Microsoft’s new Windows chief Terry Myerson said that the company would finally move to unify its Windows and Windows Phone stores. We speculated that having a single app work across form factors was just the first step, and that Microsoft’s real goal is a single OS that runs across every device. We called it Windows 9, but who knows what Microsoft will eventually call it. (Perhaps Microsoft will follow in the Xbox’s footsteps and call it Windows One.)
Of course, given the cryptic nature of what Larson-Green said, it’s entirely possible that we’re reading too much into it. It might be as simple as Windows RT being retired. I think, though, that Microsoft is well aware that the time for small changes is over — removing Windows RT from the equation is nice, but it doesn’t change the fact that Microsoft is still in distant third place in the smartphone and tablet markets. Microsoft needs to make a really, really big change if it wants to remain competitive. Killing off Windows RT, which has essentially been a massively loss-making non-entity since its arrival, would be like killing Zune or Kin — retiring a crappy product doesn’t magically make Microsoft competitive.
That isn’t to say that it won’t be a phased consolidation, mind you. Microsoft could retire Windows RT tomorrow without a second thought. With the unified Windows/Windows Phone app store scheduled to arrive some time in 2014, Microsoft’s two remaining operating systems would creep ever closer. Then, at some point in the future, Microsoft could release a single OS that works across phones, tablets, desktops, laptops, and the myriad of other PC form factors. With a single platform for developers to target, plus Microsoft’s generally excellent developer tools, Microsoft might finally be able to rustle up the apps that it needs for its smartphones and tablets to have a chance against Apple and Google.
One thing’s for certain, though: If Larson-Green and Myerson are still only talking in vague and mysterious terms, then we’re still months or years away from Microsoft enacting a major change — and time is the one thing that Microsoft really doesn’t have.