As the lines between mobile and desktop computing products continue to blur, Microsoft is pushing ahead in a strategy to combine several key parts of its operating systems – but is a full merge on the way?

Microsoft recently announced it plans to consolidate the Windows and Windows Phone stores, and some leaks have hinted that the company will slowly combine the two operating systems. The only thing Microsoft hasn’t tipped its hat about is exactly how its convergence between platforms will take place.

At Microsoft’s financial analyst meeting in September, Terry Myerson, head of Microsoft’s operating systems team, said the company is working toward a unified app platform for both mobile and desktop devices. Myerson specifically said “all of the apps we bring to end users should be available on all of our devices,” indicating the company’s desire to become “One Microsoft,” with apps that work across platforms and only have to be purchased once.

Similar statements were made by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at an employee-only event later that month, where the outgoing company leader said a combined app store will come in the “next release” of Windows and Windows Phone.

According to Microsoft-oriented journalist Paul Thurrott, those aren’t the only major changes in store for the next version of Microsoft’s Windows operating systems.

Windows Phone 8.1, according to Thurrott, will add support for devices with up to 10-inch screens. Currently, Windows Phone 8 supports up to 6-inch screens; devices with 7- to 10-inch screens are squarely in the tablet range, which is currently supported by Microsoft’s Windows RT and Windows 8.1 operating systems. So what does this mean for Windows on tablets if Thurrott’s information is correct? 

What does it mean for the future of Windows tablets if Windows Phone supports devices with up to 10-inch screens?ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley has theorized that Windows Phone will eventually overtake Windows RT on tablets, since it wouldn’t make sense to have two competing operating systems for the same devices. It’s certainly a strong possibility, but Microsoft’s product pipeline sends mixed messages about its likelihood.

Foley’s theory seems unlikely to occur anytime soon given that Microsoft confirmed this week that it will release a version of Office for the touchscreen interface of Windows RT and Windows 8.1. The desktop version of the productivity suite is already available on both platforms, which likely means Microsoft plans to keep pushing Windows RT for tablets, as it wouldn’t develop software almost specifically for the OS if it was going to abandon it.

Windows Phone devices already have a version of Office as well, though theoretically Microsoft could be developing a new version that would work across both it and Windows RT. That seems unlikely given that the company has said it’s being developed for the Metro environment in Windows RT and Windows 8.1, but Foley claims the new Office apps will serve as the basis for upcoming iOS and Android versions, meaning it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

The new Office apps are scheduled for release sometime in mid-2014, and a smaller Surface tablet – likely with either a 7- or 8-inch screen – is rumored to be released early next year, the same time period Windows Phone 8.1 is expected to be released. So Microsoft has three big releases set up for the first half of next year, but none of them seem to indicate what the company’s long-term plans for tablets are.

Perhaps Myerson’s financial analyst meeting comments were more telling of Microsoft’s long-term plans, signifying that Microsoft wants the Metro design across all its environments, but it wants the interfaces to be tailored to the specific hardware type.

Myerson notably said that Microsoft “should have one set of developer APIs on all of our devices,” hinting that an app will share content in a package but won’t be the exact same across devices, even if it’s listed under the same name in a unified store. He underscored this point by saying Microsoft wants “to facilitate the creation of a common – a familiar – experience across all of those devices, but a fundamentally tailored and unique experience for each device.”

In order to achieve such a goal, a Windows Phone operating system simply wouldn’t work well on a tablet – at least not in its current form, or in the form leaked media has shown of Windows Phone 8.1.

Microsoft created a bevy of touchscreen-friendly features in Windows RT and Windows 8, such as the Charms bar, many of which wouldn’t fit well on the smaller touchscreen display of a smartphone. Additionally, Windows RT already has apps specifically designed for tablets; if Android’s fragmentation has proven anything, it’s that apps designed for smartphones often don’t work well as tablet apps.

Xbox One developers were encouraged to start building apps for Windows 8.1 to prepare themselves for the upcoming console, a nod to the similar framework Myerson’s operating systems team is working on. That phrasing of that encouragement – that developers should “get a head start” on Xbox One app development with Windows 8.1 – indicates the apps won’t be the same, but they will be extremely similar, despite reports to the contrary that were shot down by Microsoft.

Perhaps Windows 8 was just the start of Microsoft's long-term play for a unified ecosystem that includes different types of devices and operating systems.Windows 8 may have just been the beginning of Microsoft’s long-term play for an ecosystem that supports itself by giving developers the tools to make apps for a range of form factors. Instead of subscribing to the belief that a single operating system can effectively work on all platforms, perhaps Microsoft is just working to ensure that a familiar experience is in place – one that can be modified to take advantage of different hardware and instead of shoehorning elements that don’t fit.

So perhaps the plan – at least at the moment – isn’t combining Windows Phone and Windows completely, but combining them just enough that they work together better, making life easier for developers while creating an environment that users enjoy. Microsoft is already laying the groundwork for APIs that should make app development easy to translate from one OS to the other. So while Microsoft’s operating systems could technically be different, they will have pieces that make multi-platform development easy while giving each device family a Metro interface that caters to its unique features.

There’s still work to do for Microsoft – Windows 8.1, while an improvement over its predecessor, still feels slightly like a hodgepodge between the desktop and Metro environment – but an underlying developer-friendly groundwork would build a large stable of apps across devices, which would go a long way. The question of how the desktop and Metro can co-exist will remain until Microsoft can better answer how users should interact between the two.

If Microsoft is successful with its plan of a common app platform and unified store across multiple form factors, perhaps everything else will fall into place.

Images via Microsoft

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Microsoft never made OS for Tablets but took desktop OS (Windows 7) and in unnatural way pushed it to Tablets and similar devices in form of Windows 8. That is the biggest problem with MS that they never put any effort into making nice tablet OS. If you take Surface Pro tablet and you start playing with Windows 8.1 in it you will realize that you could might as well install Windows 7 as far as desktop goes because hitting anything on 10.1 screen as far as desktop goes is not so nice. Simply put, Desktop OS is never meant for Tablets (Desktop interface). So in order to somehow fix this MS came up with this Metro environment slapped on top of it and when you look at how much and what you can do with Metro you come to ask yourself. What is your point Microsoft? So next step MS did is to remove Start Menu and somehow connect two worlds Desktop and Metro. Bottom line is...amateurs wouldn't do what MS did, they took shortcuts everywhere they could. Next step is a time they spent to do massive optimizations of Windows 8 in order to get acceptable performance on Tablet. That included removal of 'Aero' and other features from Windows 7 as well as changes on Kernel level, and optimizing services. Windows 8 ended up flat and less modern than Windows 7. Microsoft was caught short by Apple and Google. MS did not have answer for iPad, Android and all that and they rushed and created a OS called Windows 8...gotta tell you it is strangest thing ever created in the computer lab. I can understand it because they started losing market and they felt a ground is shaking. I run Windows 8 myself so you guys don't get wrong idea. I like performance of Windows 8. I have it installed on desktop PC with Start8 installed. It is one of those 3rd party apps you have to use to make something useful and logical in its workflow. You can clearly tell that Windows Phone team spent a lot of time making Windows 8 Phone and kudos to them. I have Lumia 920 and it is great. But, at the same Windows team did just terrible things.

Horsepuckey.

If Microsoft did as you asked (made a separate tablet/slate OS) and left the desktop OS alone (which it sure sounds like you are asking for), what do they do with formfactors that are neither tablets or slates, yet don't fit a pointing-device-centric UX/UI?

I gave two examples of formfactors that are not tablets OR slates - however, a pointing-device-centric UX flat-out fails. Only one - tablets/slates - is used by RT at all; oddly enough, Windows 8.x (and prior to that, 7) is commonplace (the tablets and slates running 8 are derived from Ultrabooks, which launched with 7). I also noticed that you are running with Start8 - which means that it's the Start menu that you are addicted to. Basically, what you REALLY want is for the desktop UI not to have changed - not that it is a poor fit for tablets or slates. How good a fit is the desktop UI/UX of Windows 7 for tablets or slates? I don't know of so much as ONE OEM that shipped Windows 7 on a tablet or slate that didn't slap something akin to HTC Sense on it - and that includes Samsung with the Series 7 (an Ultrabook-derived tablet). That means that not just the support for tablets and slates is poor - which Microsoft admits is very much the case with 7 compared to even 8, let alone 8.1 - but the form-factor's support for the UX/UI has issues. (Notice that it's a form-factor issue - not a hardware issue; the standard Ultrabook formfactor - which is a notebook - can use the same UI/UX as any other notebook.)

Further, never mind that by centering everything around the pointing device, the keyboard gets neglected - I pointed out that such is the case for users of every version of Windows from 9x to 7, and in every formfactor - even, if not especially the most common of users; desktops, laptops, and notebooks. Are you "Married to the Mouse"?

Between touch and kinect, and Window phone, surface, the xbox, and Windows 8, Microsoft could develop a truly universal computing platform. I see no reason not to do this, for a large percentage of the apps I use, they would be equally useful on any device. If I'm going to open up Access, it's going to be on a PC no matter what, so that's a non-issue. But Twitter? Should be the same app (and same settings, and same profile), on every device.

Apple will make this change at some point. Or they won't, hoping they can get users to still spend $600 on an iPad and $1000 on a Macbook when a keyboard and some OS changes would make them the same thing.

Years ago you had Novell with something that was called the NAL for Windows pc's.

With the recent business addons for W8.1, and now being able to create custom startscreens, I feel like I'm back at the NAL again.

I don't see why this couldn't work in the workplace today with W8.1, while the NAL wasn't an issue back than.

Ignorant/stubborn much??

Microsoft has been running hard towards a one UI for everyone for some time now. But it's a lot harder than people think. Especially when you take into account how much reach the company has: console, embedded/compact, desktop/laptop/tablet, mobile, server.

What has been pushing them in this direction is .NET and the core of Windows. If you look at every major product that Microsoft has out right now..every single one of them has Windows 8 as its core.

Windows Phone 8 actually has the Windows 8 kernel.
Windows 8/8.1/Server, of course, has the Windows 8 kernel.
Windows 8 Embedded, has the Windows 8 kernel
Xbox One is running a trifecta: the Xbox game engine, Windows 8 kernel, and Hyper-V to switch between the two/run the two in parallel.
Windows RT is actually a recompile of the Windows 8 kernel for ARM architectures.

That said, the real thing that people see is the UI. And the real thing developers use is the SDK/API. And that's where it's taking the longest time. Microsoft has finally gotten to the point where its UI paradigm (the Modern UI) has switched from a disjointed affair (some desktop, some Modern UI, some sort of strange combination) to a unified one.

The next step is to make the API's/SDK's as inclusive as possible across all devices. And they're getting there. One step is to leverage core API's that Windows 8 provides and then use web technologies with responsive paradigms to make your UI scale across all devices. The other is to have a core layer that uses the API's and then tailor your UI for each device. It's a matter of skillset and your application. This tenet is what made SOA so popular.

And Microsoft is the only one that can truly boast it. It's an impressive feat. And we're still not there just yet.

That said, this is exactly what I see happening:

Windows RT and Windows Phone will combine. Windows Phone apps will run in WinRT. But WinRT apps won't run on phones unless the screen size allows for it. Developers will target certain resolutions. The desktop will be disabled by default...and will essentially become a modern day command prompt.

Windows 8/9/etc. will continue on with the Modern UI. The desktop will be enabled by default...but on the back burner.

Xbox One will continue on the path its going as allowing developers to create for Windows 8, but leverage unique experiences on the Xbox One.

What is really going to change the tide is the creation of Office Touch apps. Because, let's be honest, the only reason the desktop exists on Windows RT is the value proposition of Office. And I love the File Manager, IE10/11 desktop, etc. on Windows RT. But the general populace doesn't care.

Microsoft is going in the right direction. It's something the tech media couldn't see from the beginning because they're incredibly short sighted...and honestly in the pockets of Apple. But it's a long term bet. And the deep pockets and value of Windows/Office will drive them there.

what about the buiness people/users?

we certainly wont switch to windows 8/8.1 here.

Users are retarded and hate change, let along big bosses woudl tell me to get lost if i switched their desktops to windows 8.

Microsoft need todo an enterprise version (which they already do) but with all the UI crap ripped out. I bet if they did this it would sell more then the UI version

If they have ANY experience with Windows 2000 Professional or NT 4 Workstation, they likely used their keyboards more in both than in any version of Windows since. As much as I hate to admit it, the Start menu made Windows a very pointing-device driven (if not mouse-centric in particular) operating system. In fact, how many people - just on Neowin alone - have had their share of tooth-gnashing just because their pointing device went toes-up? With Windows 8, I'm actually far less chained to a pointing device than I have been since - believe it or not - ANY version of Windows (or NT), and I go back to Windows/286 (AKA Windows 1.1). And I don't have touch support on my hardware (a traditional desktop) at all. Graphical user interfaces (not alone Windows) have been expected to have some sort of pointing-device support, to the point that it became a requirement - however, with the Start menu, Microsoft (I have no idea whether they realized it or not) made the OS revolve around the pointing-device support - and largely at the expense of any OTHER way of interacting with the OS or applications installed in the OS; basically, without a pointing device, you were utterly screwed. With Windows 8, it is entirely possible to use most of the OS without a mouse OR any sort of pointing device - including a touch-screen. What you need is a keyboard - but that's all. You can Tab your way around the StartScreen - while a mouse or other pointing device is faster, it's not a requirement. This is something I (literally) tripped over - it's far from obvious. However, the mere fact that it's doable at all is something that Windows (as an operating system) has lacked since NT - and NT 3.x at that. The Start menu made Windows 9x (and NT since 4) very mouse/pointing-device centered - naturally, every iteration of the Start menu since has been aiming more and more at the pointing-device-centered "centerpiece" - that selfsame Start menu. However, what happens when you are using form-factors where the Start menu doesn't work? (Tablets and slates are prime examples - due to the screens being too small. Oddly enough, projectors and super-size screens are another example - due to the resolution being too low, and the physical pixel size being too large.) In other words, while most of the REST of the hardware is perfectly capable, the screen dimensions make the Start menu a non-starter. (I'm not talking RT-based hardware at all - though RT-based hardware has the same issues; I'm talking about Windows 8-based hardware, or even Windows 7-based hardware. How well does Windows 7 deal with multiple screens? Really large single screens, for that matter?) Oh no - the "crime" Windows 8.x commits is NOT sacrificing mouse support for touch support; no, it's far more egregious and insidious than that.

Windows 8.x is not mouse/pointing-device-centric at all. That's the REAL "crime" of Windows 8.x.

See my post above - which actually addresses that specific point. The closest analogy to Search in Windows 8.x (be it the original Windows 8 or 8.1) is, in fact, browser-based search - which is keyboard-driven. It literally IS as easy to search the OS - and all your drives that the OS can see - as it is using any Internet search engine. If you are used to using Google (or Bing, or Yahoo, or any other search engine), the same mechanics are in play for search in Windows 8.x - there is NO difference at all. Do you need a mouse to use Google, or Yahoo, or even Bing, once you bring up your browser of choice? The Windows logo key - present on any keyboard of any age that isn't manufactured by Apple - is the kickoff for Search in Windows 8.x. Not your mouse, or anything away from the keyboard. The oldest of schools - that key goes back nearly two decades, and is older than the Start menu. The Start menu - much to my own chagrin, and later disgust - actually detracted, if not downright distracted, me (and doubtless a lot of users) away from getting more use out of the keyboard. It made Windows (from 9x to date) a very mouse-driven (if not mouse-centric) operating system. With Windows 8.x (and especially minus any Start menu bringbacks), I've re-discovered my keyboard.

I can't wait for this. Dynamic and responsive APIs and UIs are going to drive the next generation of devices, and personally, I find the concept very exciting.

Looking forward to more integration between operating systems, and new end user experiences. With a UX like Metro, Microsoft is well on their way of accomplishing this task.

What future devices are you talking about? Are you expecting from me to ditch mouse and keyboard and use touchscreen? What is so dynamic and responsible about API and UI in form of Metro that is going to benefit everyone? Do you think touchscreen is a future way of computing? Do you think Microsoft will drop desktop version of Office and other apps in favor of its Metro counterpart?

zoharzenica said,
What future devices are you talking about? Are you expecting from me to ditch mouse and keyboard and use touchscreen? What is so dynamic and responsible about API and UI in form of Metro that is going to benefit everyone? Do you think touchscreen is a future way of computing? Do you think Microsoft will drop desktop version of Office and other apps in favor of its Metro counterpart?

Sorry, but I must have missed where the Metro UI doesn't allow a mouse or keyboard? Touchscreens aren't going away, but they augment certain devices, not replace. I hate to say it, but I friggin HATE that people seem to think you can't use Metro with anything but touch. It shows ignorance.

No - not even ModernUI (let alone Android or iOS) expects that. Besides, if Android or iOS were touch-only, neither would support keyboard interaction at all. What dictates touch support (in all cases) is the form-factor - not the OS in and of itself. Tablets and slates are smaller than traditional desktops, and due to those smaller sizes usually have no space for a physical keyboard. While AIOs can (and do, in some cases) support touch-screen interaction, it's still an outlier even in terms of AIOs - due to cost/price reasons (the larger the screen size, the higher the cost to implement) - that has not gone away completely yet, despite a decrease in cost even merely since Windows 7, let alone Vista or XP. ModernUI has *better* touch-screen support than Windows 7 - however, despite the thinking otherwise, it's not even remotely at the expense of keyboard and mouse support. I've compared (and heads-up, no less) the HP TouchSmart 310 and my current desktop - and both run Windows 8.1 Pro x64 currently. (Neither came with the OS - the TouchSmart originally shipped with Windows 7 Home Premium, and I built my current desktop around Windows 7 Ultimate x64.) The HP (with the touch support) actually let me install Office Professional 2013 sans keyboard and mouse altogether - and Office 2013 is a DESKTOP productivity suite. Same OS, and same productivity software - the only difference is that one desktop has touch support. Did I lose keyboard and mouse support with the TouchSmart? Hardly - the included keyboard and mouse (standard fare) still worked just fine. I could certainly have gone all "Minority Report" with Word - or all of Office, to put it bluntly - the touch support designed into both the display itself AND the OS (tons better than Windows 7) makes it possible. If anything, keyboard support is improved in Windows 8 (and 8.1) over Windows 7 - Search support makes that painfully obvious. Search in Windows 8 (and again, 8.1) is keyboard-driven - not mouse-driven; if anything, this what Search in Windows XP aspired to be, and SHOULD have been in Vista. The closest approach to the Search mechanics in Windows 8.x is (surprisingly) browser-based search - using ANY of the major search engines (be it Google, Bing, or the Bing-driven Yahoo of today); as much as it may surprise you, Windows 7 is not that easy to search as a desktop OS. There's a reason for that, as much as you may not want to realize it - Windows 7, like Vista, XP, and previous versions of Windows back to 9x, is defined by the Start menu - in other words, it's a very mouse-driven OS. Touch-pads, trackballs, and even, if not especially keyboards, all play second fiddle to the Start menu. By "firing" the Start menu, users are no longer chained to their pointing devices. I didn't even use my keyboard as much in Windows 2000 Professional, and I'm an admitted Runbox maniac. That is what Windows 8 (and 8.1) have done for me - it basically let me rediscover my keyboard, and unshackled me from my mouse. (What makes THAT analogy all the sillier is that my mouse is the Logitech V220 - which is cordless.)

I like the Start Screen. I think Metro Apps should be on a independent operating system. I know they should. I use the mouse primarily. I love the notion that I can do almost any function a computer possesses through the click of a button. I think you can sum all the utility of an operating system down to an Action Bar and a Button. Regardless of Touch or Click. One of biggest problems with Metro is the way they jigsawed it into the desktop. Everything was fine on the desktop. If they had left the Metro implementation off at just the Start Screen and the Full Screen Apps I think everything would have gone a lot smoother. Even still, I think Microsoft's approach to the market with Desktop and Metro should be separate systems that both have their own source of utility in the market. I think Desktop and Metro work against each other. Microsoft could implement more Mouse Gestures. (more double-click and long-pressing.) I also feel like they don't need Metro on the Desktop because there is still a lot of functionality they could get out of the File Explorer and the Task Bar. I wish they would put the search functionality for the side bar in the File Explorer instead. I'm working on a concept right now to show all the functionality that could be utilized through the File Explorer.

"Where will the convergence of mobile and desktop take Windows?"
Into bankruptcy, if they persist in upsetting a large portion of desktop users by forcing a phone-type UI, while failing to capture a bigger share of the tablet market?

Present success is no guarantee of a successful future. Apple nearly went under until Jobs came back. Today, Nokia and Blackberry are a shadow of their former selves. It will be interesting to see how MS's strategy plays out.

Basically, you want to have different hardware (with wildly different UIs, APIs and UXes) and THEN complain that these various devices won't work together. If you mix Microsoft, Apple, and Google, that is EXACTLY what you have. Google has no desktop OS - as much as some folks want to say otherwise, neither the Chrome OS in particular, or the Chromebook as a platform, is a desktop OS. Android is a mobile OS - however, that is simply one part of the convergence. Apple has two parts - mobile (iOS) and desktop (OS X). However, they are far apart, and getting, if anything, further apart. In Microsoft's case, they are actively converging mobile and desktop (the opposite of Apple). Yes, they are getting whacked for it - however, what is the REAL reason for Microsoft getting whacked? Part of it could well be the lingering (back to Windows 9x) distrust of Microsoft because of that still-humongous desktop marketshare - despite Windows ME and Windows Vista, Windows' share of desktops has gone nowhere. And because of that, there could be a deliberate choice of someone OTHER than Microsoft (for mobile) simply to NOT feed "Goliath" (never mind that Windows Mobile is closer to David than either Android or iOS by far). From the comments about not wanting convergence, there's a large part of "not feeding Goliath" still extant.

I merely speculated. And what you describe is neither what I want nor what I complain about.
More to the point, it's not about what I want, it's what the market as a whole wants.
The result of convergence so far have not, shall we say, met with universal acclaim.

UI doesn't make devices work together but services those devices are using. Take for example Sky Drive. That thing is much better on Windows 7 then on Windows 8. Why? Because it is part of explorer where you can simply drop files and do other things. In Metro experience of Windows 8 is rather a crap on PC, fine on Phone. What makes Windows 8 Phone and Windows 7 work together is no UI but common service called Sky Drive. Each device requires its own UI which fits the best the nature of device itself. It would be like trying to have ferrari engine in Ferrari, ford fusion and Chevy Malibu....I Don't think so. People are not stupid so they are not going to be confused why Windows Phone has Metro and Windows 7 does not have. People expect a device they buy to act as that device and nothing more and have appropriate UI for it. People do not buy tablet to act as full desktop as well. That's where Microsoft misjudged market and simply do not understand therefore Windows 8 turns out to be nothing but attack on IQ and that's why people feel ****ed.

Edited by zoharzenica, Nov 6 2013, 8:41pm :

However, when they use a device to augment (not replace) another (such as a smartphone or tablet augmenting - not replacing, a desktop) and they use files FROM the device being augmented (the desktop), such as text or media files, are they NOT expecting the tablet or smartphone to support those file formats? File exchange is a point of convergence - whether we admit it or not. We (as users) exchange files between our various devices - including desktops - whatever happened to the idea that those files should work seamlessly? Isn't that what we REALLY mean by convergence at the end of the day?

One size has never and never will fit all. Different form factors mean different OSs,or at the very least different UIs. Think of apples (no pun intended), oranges, and grapes. Yes, they are all fruits, but other than that...

TsarNikky said,
One size has never and never will fit all. Different form factors mean different OSs,or at the very least different UIs. Think of apples (no pun intended), oranges, and grapes. Yes, they are all fruits, but other than that...

That line of thought is mentioned multiple times in the article; it's the focus of the second half, in fact.

On the surface (no pun intended) they should strive to create one UI across all platform. An UI that adapts to the screensize, the screen orientation, resolution and whether or not it is touch-based.

So on a potrair display the starscreen would scroll vertically like WP and on a landscape display the startscreen would scroll horizontally like W8. And on a non-touch display the hidden UI elements should automatically move onto the screen itself for easier access.

Under the surface they could make incremental changes to slowly merge the two systems. WP is a better starting point for ARM-based tablets because it runs lighter. However at the moment WP's apps arent good enough for 8''+ screens. Just compare Office on RT with Office on WP. So for the time being they need to keep RT around. However, when ready, WP (perhaps WP8.2 or WP9) should become available for ARM tablets and move everyone on RT devices to WP.

There will Always be a divide between Windows on ARM and 'old' Windows. But on the surface they should appear equally. With the exception of the desktop which should be hidden on ARM devices. In turn on desktops it should be more integrated into the new UI. Particulary for productivity the desktop wont disappear for decades at least. Microsoft cant simply ignore it. They need to make it part of the Windows 8 experience.

Ronnet said,
On the surface (no pun intended) they should strive to create one UI across all platform. An UI that adapts to the screensize, the screen orientation, resolution and whether or not it is touch-based.

So on a potrair display the starscreen would scroll vertically like WP and on a landscape display the startscreen would scroll horizontally like W8. And on a non-touch display the hidden UI elements should automatically move onto the screen itself for easier access.

Under the surface they could make incremental changes to slowly merge the two systems. WP is a better starting point for ARM-based tablets because it runs lighter. However at the moment WP's apps arent good enough for 8''+ screens. Just compare Office on RT with Office on WP. So for the time being they need to keep RT around. However, when ready, WP (perhaps WP8.2 or WP9) should become available for ARM tablets and move everyone on RT devices to WP.

There will Always be a divide between Windows on ARM and 'old' Windows. But on the surface they should appear equally. With the exception of the desktop which should be hidden on ARM devices. In turn on desktops it should be more integrated into the new UI. Particulary for productivity the desktop wont disappear for decades at least. Microsoft cant simply ignore it. They need to make it part of the Windows 8 experience.

Metro is that UI. It wouldn't take much to give it dynamic adaptability.

Dot Matrix said,

Metro is that UI. It wouldn't take much to give it dynamic adaptability.

I was talking about Metro of course. But it would have to be Metro 2.0. Something build from the ground up that considered the different needs of phones, tablets and full PCs in its design. At the moment metro apps on WP are unsuited for tablets and vice versa, not to mention full PCs.

But true enough with the tile interface it shouldnt be hard to change it on screensize and rotation. Between WP and W8 they've developed enough understanding on how to make the UI work. As well as how not to do it (Surface in potrait mode, for example).

Dot Matrix said,

Metro is that UI. It wouldn't take much to give it dynamic adaptability.

Metro could be the UI the day that apps using it will have the same functionalities of desktop ones; today they do not and my guess is that when this will happen Metro could be quite different than it is today.

Fritzly said,

Metro could be the UI the day that apps using it will have the same functionalities of desktop ones; today they do not and my guess is that when this will happen Metro could be quite different than it is today.

I'm quite content using Metro on my desktop and laptop, and really wish we had the more powerful apps now. Metro is already very capable - it just needs the software.

DConnell said,

I'm quite content using Metro on my desktop and laptop, and really wish we had the more powerful apps now. Metro is already very capable - it just needs the software.

I love using Metro on my desktop, and I wish for the same. We'll get there, hopefully soon.

DConnell said,

I'm quite content using Metro on my desktop and laptop, and really wish we had the more powerful apps now. Metro is already very capable - it just needs the software.

I think that when designing a more adaptive version of metro (Metro 2.0 if you will) they need to consider the different needs of the different adaptions. So when running on a full-screen device the charm and app-bar should immediatly pop-up on screen, and remain there, the moment you touch the mouse (and disappear as soon as you touch the screen and switch back to touch input). And the larger the screen the more options visible on the appbar. On a smaller screen the advanced options should be tucked away just like they are now on WP (where you have to swipe up to see all options in the app-bar).

They already have the kernel running on everything and to an extent they have other core elements running to. The next step is the same exact API (WinRT) to run on everything. The UI can scale and match the device type. Your app can scale to the device type and input type as well, this has been shown to be the case and we know it works.

People seem to think just because MS is extending Windows to mobile devices that the desktop is left out, it's not. All we have is the first step with v8.1 (8.0 was more like a half step). The next version and so on will see where things go, once we can have apps that scale from my 4" smartphone up to my 30" desktop (if I want to run them there), then we're on to something big. And there's no reason why you can't have a dynamic app and UI to match, so when the app is on a small phone you get a more basic version of it, but when it's on a bigger screen you get more and the UI fills out to match. Toss in backend services to sync things together and everything's starting to look great. We've seen cases of this already, with apps like OneNote, it's pretty basic on my phone, a little more feature rich on my tablet, and I get the full set on my desktop. All 3 sync and so on but right now they're still 3 different apps that talk to each other, the goal is to have it be one app that changes between 3 different modes if it needs to.

I'm always against the "one trick pony". Products that do everything seem to do those things adequately. I'd rather have different products that do a phenomenal job.

I want Microsoft to get away from "hybrid" devices that don't really satisfy a large portion of the market, and go instead toward *modular* devices.

For example, instead of a Surface which is a full pc in a package the size of the screen, use ARM in tablets, and drive them even thinner and thinner. Then sell a full sized keyboard accessory that has an x86 processor and larger battery. The PC in a keyboard can be used in conjunction with your surface/screen, OR it can connect to a normal monitor.

The person who wants a tablet can get just a tablet, and the price will be reduced. The person who wants the full functionality can buy the keyboard and end up with a total system that is about the same size as a Surface 2 with the type cover.

Microsoft, give me this, and I will give you my money. Please.

I think a psychiatrist needs to evaluate Windows for it's split personality disorder and its confusion of what it thinks it is. Here's what Microsoft should do with Windows 8 and Windows phone:
1. Scrap the current split personality of windows 8
2. Remove all aspects of metro on Windows 8 and put the start button and menu back.
3. Release Windows 7.1 which is the Windows 8 desktop with the start button and menu minus metro
3. Make windows phone take over and work both on tablet and phones like Android does.
4. Make apps work on both tablet and phone versions of windows phone

This Windows jack of all trades experiment will then be over

I agree. Windows 8 is very confusing for Consumers. Windows 8 Phone is great and its idea should be pushed to Surface. There is no need for Surface Pro and idea of device running as PC and Tablet. The problem with Windows 8 is that Microsoft never actually created OS for Tablet but tried to adjust Desktop OS for such device in such unnatural way and then for sake of having some type of same experience push same thing on PC itself and even Server. MS took shortcut and slapped Windows Phone UI on top of Windows 7 UI and called it good. Very unprofessional....

Lone Wanderer Chicken said,
I think a psychiatrist needs to evaluate Windows for it's split personality disorder and its confusion of what it thinks it is. Here's what Microsoft should do with Windows 8 and Windows phone:
1. Scrap the current split personality of windows 8
2. Remove all aspects of metro on Windows 8 and put the start button and menu back.
3. Release Windows 7.1 which is the Windows 8 desktop with the start button and menu minus metro
3. Make windows phone take over and work both on tablet and phones like Android does.
4. Make apps work on both tablet and phone versions of windows phone

This Windows jack of all trades experiment will then be over

And I'll probably be running Ubuntu if that happens. My favorite aspect of Windows 8 is the retirement of the Start Menu IMO. Hated it in 1995, still hate it. It should have been euthanized after Windows 95, not kept for 17 years. Remove the Metro apps if you must, but leave the Start Screen!

I do think that Microsoft wants to put all its stuff in one single OS, and why not? There is something people call "responsive design", you know. The same code with another interface on all devices without much work, something the one that wrote this article clearly didn't think about.

Studio384 said,
I do think that Microsoft wants to put all its stuff in one single OS, and why not? There is something people call "responsive design", you know. The same code with another interface on all devices without much work, something the one that wrote this article clearly didn't think about.

That's clearly mentioned in the article -- multiple times, in fact. Read the last few paragraphs (or read the final pull quote).

"Instead of subscribing to the belief that a single operating system can effectively work on all platforms, perhaps Microsoft is just working to ensure that a familiar experience is in place - one that can be modified to take advantage of different hardware and instead of shoehorning elements that don't fit."

The entire ending was talking about how Microsoft could lay the groundwork for similar platforms and APIs that would make app development easy to translate from one OS to the other. So while they wouldn't be the same operating systems, they'd share pieces that make development easy while giving each device an interface that's similar but caters to its unique features, such as input method.

Edit: I added a sentence summarizing the above to the third-to-last paragraph if it wasn't already clear.

Edited by Anthony Tosie, Nov 6 2013, 6:10pm :

I do not like the whole 'jack of all trades, master on none' ethos

Cloud back end services will bring my devices together, and I personally will opt for a platform / ecosystem agnostic solution (if I can that is).

Currently using a Macbook Pro Retina, Nexus 4, Win8 works PC and a mix of Google and MS services. Talk about fingers in pies.

System Centre, InTune and Azure services are improving all the time though. I know it will be a very interesting few years where everything ends up.

glen8 said,
I do not like the whole 'jack of all trades, master on none' ethos

Cloud back end services will bring my devices together, and I personally will opt for a platform / ecosystem agnostic solution (if I can that is).

Currently using a Macbook Pro Retina, Nexus 4, Win8 works PC and a mix of Google and MS services. Talk about fingers in pies.

System Centre, InTune and Azure services are improving all the time though. I know it will be a very interesting few years where everything ends up.


It's easy to be turned off by the 'jack of all trades' platform when you don't see one that works for you, but it's unfair to consider it a poor direction based on nothing but its current manifestations.

The cynic will make the accusation that the day Apple merges iOS and Mac OS, it will suddenly be beloved by all, and naysayers who made blanket statements against the concept will do their revisionist history, as they did with tablets, and say their opinion only applied to what existed at that time.

Meanwhile, the person who says cloud services and back-end technologies will allow us to jump from wildly different platform paradigms seamlessly doesn't realize that what they're saying is someday all they'd ever need is a browser--which just happens to *be* a "unified UI". And just as some sites (Engadget) can adapt very neatly between their desktop UI and mobile UI with the same code presentation, it's hard to say that a native application (ex., WinRT app) could never pull off the same thing.

It will never happen because desktop with triple 30" screen setup and bad ass computer running 6 core cpu and sli titan is not the same as some phone with graphic capabilities 10 years behind. Those devices have nothing in common. I am afraid Microsoft is setting themselves for a big failure. You can't simply go and compile something for both platforms and expect to work the same unless you lower standards on PC.

Edited by zoharzenica, Nov 6 2013, 4:15pm :

How's that? The Nokia Lumia 520 and your bad ass computer running 6 core cpu's with Windows on and the Xbox ONE are already using the same kernel, only the outher shell and APIs difference now.

Studio384 said,
How's that? The Nokia Lumia 520 and your bad ass computer running 6 core cpu's with Windows on and the Xbox ONE are already using the same kernel, only the outher shell and APIs difference now.

It can work but it may not necessarily be the best way.

Even a narcissist corporation like Apple understands that very well and hence they have 2 separate UI's.

But Nokia Lumia 520 cannot play Crysis 3 with details that PC does. Nokia Lumia 520 cannot run Adobe Photoshop as it is on PC which means what's the point. Yes they can share kernel but it means nothing in term of having same experience on all devices, simply impossible.

zoharzenica said,
Just saying there is no same experience on every device.

No one is suggesting you should. You're supposed to develop for the platform it's running on.

Only an ignorant fool thinks this means you would take a Windows app and just install it on a phone, because there's no way in hell that would work. Similarly, you wouldn't just take a Windows Phone app and run it on a desktop, because you're severely limiting the potential of the app and not harnessing any of the potential of the PC platform.
You are supposed to tailor the app for the platform it's running on, so when it's installed on your wang PC, it can utilise its capabilities and do its job properly, whereas when it's on your Phone, it operates the best it can in the environment it's in.

Remember, most phone apps are purely consumption, whereas desktop apps are consumption, but also have the ability to be used for major production. Nobody says the same app can't be tailored so that you produce on the desktop, then consume the content with the same app on the phone, with a UI that's designed to reflect this and focus purely on touch.

One app, best of both worlds. This is how it should be done, not trying to shoehorn the same app onto platforms where it clearly shouldn't be (Phone apps on desktop and vice versa).

zoharzenica said,
But Nokia Lumia 520 cannot play Crysis 3 with details that PC does. Nokia Lumia 520 cannot run Adobe Photoshop as it is on PC which means what's the point. Yes they can share kernel but it means nothing in term of having same experience on all devices, simply impossible.

The vast majority of aps out there are not power hungry and do not need to be desktop aps, this whole 'one' modern app ecosystem thing is not really trying to kill the desktop, that will be around for a long time for apps that need a computer with decent RAM/CPU and possibly disk speed (photoshop/3d apps/CAD/high end games etc.).

Apps available in the stores of windows phone, windows 8 and xbox one should/will all be written using a standard set of API's and the only real difference has to be the presentation and UX for each device.

Throwing high end games and desktop applications into the argument/discussion is illogical, because the modern UI is not made for these apps and is not trying to take them away from the desktop.

Basically we'll have:

Phone and ARM tablet that can only run store apps
x86 tablet and desktop that can run store apps AND desktop apps/games
Xbox One that can run store apps AND Xbox games

The common theme here is all can run store apps, so the same API's should be available to devs on each one so the backend of their apps can be the same, with just a new UX for each type of device.

just give us the same API, then we can design a xaml layout for all and every device,and detect device at runtime to know and config the type of input and other attributes of device in use
switch (DEVICE) {
case PHONE: ConfigPhone() ; break;
case TABLET: ConfigTab(); break;
case XBOX: ConfigXbox(); break;
case PC: ConfigPeeCee(); break; }

vcfan said,
just give us the same API, then we can design a xaml layout for all and every device,and detect device at runtime to know and config the type of input and other attributes of device in use
switch (DEVICE) {
case PHONE: ConfigPhone() ; break;
case TABLET: ConfigTab(); break;
case XBOX: ConfigXbox(); break;
case PC: ConfigPeeCee(); break; }

well that is just part of it but the underlying device api needs to change. for example the xbox doesn't have a notion of a calendar, or a phone dialer, or any of the stuff the WP api has. The phone is unlikely to have the xbox services and xbox api will no doubt lack the general computing apis of windows 8.

What they need to do for devs is give us a homogeneous services layer that works across every platform and then 3 other classes that deal with specifics for phones, tablets, and consoles.

Windows Phone 8.1 will hopefully be the convergence of Windows RT / Windows Phone so we can finally say good riddance to silverlight and have better compatibility between devices. OBviously it will take years for the silverlight phone ecosystem to get ported/mirgated but i hope that is what Microsoft is doing with 8.1.. Xaml is xaml, i get that, but i hope we can standardize on WinRT API and start seeing apps go across the entire ecosystem (including X1)

spudtrooper said,
Windows Phone 8.1 will hopefully be the convergence of Windows RT / Windows Phone so we can finally say good riddance to silverlight and have better compatibility between devices. OBviously it will take years for the silverlight phone ecosystem to get ported/mirgated but i hope that is what Microsoft is doing with 8.1.. Xaml is xaml, i get that, but i hope we can standardize on WinRT API and start seeing apps go across the entire ecosystem (including X1)

windows phone 8 is not based on Silverlight at all. it's winPRT.

neonspark said,

windows phone 8 is not based on Silverlight at all. it's winPRT.

cool, i hope devs are taking advantage of the native winprt, most of the apps that i can see are still silveright 7/7.1 apps.

Brony said,
In a nutshell:
Across many devices, Windows will look the same, however it will not be the same.

No, wrong way round. They'll be the same and have all the same APIs, but the look of the UI will be different.

The Teej said,

No, wrong way round. They'll be the same and have all the same APIs, but the look of the UI will be different.

"...but a fundamentally tailored and unique experience for each device"

So, it will be exactly what's happening, we will not be able to install a phone apps in our tablet, even when the API is "the same" (is similar and it shares some common design but nothing more)

Brony said,

"...but a fundamentally tailored and unique experience for each device"

So, it will be exactly what's happening, we will not be able to install a phone apps in our tablet, even when the API is "the same" (is similar and it shares some common design but nothing more)

I don't think I want a windows phone app on my 60 inch HD screen so that is a good thing. However it is reasonable to expect tablet apps to work on the xbox with little tweaking as well as windows phone apps to run on tablets.

the reality is that developers don't really want to write an app that runs on everything either for that will make app development more difficult and costly. But what MSFT will likely do is have a common UI builder and services layer which allows the visual studio project to target only those platforms the developer can write code to properly support.

Brony said,

"...but a fundamentally tailored and unique experience for each device"

So, it will be exactly what's happening, we will not be able to install a phone apps in our tablet, even when the API is "the same" (is similar and it shares some common design but nothing more)

Why the hell would you want to? The idea that you take a phone app and use it on your tablet, desktop, TV and XBOX is just plain stupid. Similarly, a highly mouse+KB driven interface wouldn't work on a Phone or XBOX.

The app must be tailored to the platform it's being installed on. This should be plainly obvious, and the app should be designed to harness the primary abilities of the platform to deliver the best possible experience.

This is what they're trying to do, not write once and run anywhere, but write most once, and tweak for everywhere. If the core fundamentals remain the same across all platforms, then most of it would be written once. All you have to do then is adjust the user's experience so it's appropriate to the device it's used on. For example, there's no point in having mouse support on a phone, similarly, there's no need to have a super minimalist UI on a desktop. The app can run on both, but you have to design it for both.

While a phone and tablet are somewhat similar, there are sufficient differences in capabilities that simply porting a phone app would be insufficient, and proper design should be put into it to properly cater for the tablet environment (Larger screen area for example), plus the flexibility for the tablet to convert into the desktop like environment, such as with a Surface Pro.

Apps for Windows could be so exciting if they can get this right. Being able to say go from my Windows Phone to my Windows tablet, then plug my tablet into a dock and use it on my desktop environment, where I plug in my XBOX controller and can play games with an XBOX controller, or transition the state to my XBOX and play it on the big screen. This scenario would be incredible, but it requires more than simply allowing the XBOX to play my Windows Phone game to do it justice.

The Teej said,

No, wrong way round. They'll be the same and have all the same APIs, but the look of the UI will be different.

I don't quite agree with this. The Windows Phone UI hasn't changed since 2010 when WP7 launched. From what I thought originally...Windows Phone 8.1 would be really Windows RT underneath. That would've made sense why Windows Phone 8.1 was delayed and all the design efforts that have gone into Windows 8.1. But I was wrong.

The reason Windows Phone 8 has the shared Windows core is so it can eventually support a Windows 8/RT shell and WinRT apps. I switched from a Surface Pro to a Surface 2 for better portability, but I originally had a Surface RT, the performance is better but I understand now what Mary Joe Foley is talking about. Taking something apart isn't as easy as starting with something small and adding the parts you need.

Windows RT is too bloated for the ARM architecture. That doesn't mean it is going away. But I believe the concept is to replace the Windows RT core platform with Windows Phone 8.1 as the backbone and call it Windows RT 8.2 or whatever version number. There wouldn't be a difference because they are taking the front-end of Windows 8/RT and porting it to Windows Phone 8, and as you would expect from the article, running it on a 10-inch display would be supported. The only difference is the UI would be much faster because the parts from x86 Windows wouldn't be there like the Desktop. It would increase battery efficiency too.

If Microsoft doesn't replace the GUI on Windows Phones with the Windows 8.1 UI, I'll be upset. The GUI on Windows Phones was made for the Samsung Focus's OLED display! We need more vibrant colors, and UI animations! We need a start screen that allows us to choose a background, or look more tidy and sharp. With KitKat and iOS 7 with thinner sharper fonts and colorful icons, the UI on Windows Phones is stale.

I loved all my Windows Phones! My Sammy Focus, my Focus S, my Lumia 920. I passed down my Focus S to my mother and that phone still is working to this day! It's a shame her phone looks better with it since it has an AMOLED display and all the new Windows Phones have much higher specs with LCD displays but yet have a GUI for a phone with an AMOLED.

Virtually every part of the GUI on Windows Phones is stale and succeeded by a new part of the Windows 8.1 GUI. And with the Windows Core apps all having the new dotted bar (ahem with a blue coloring, with newer buttons, not black and white), it would make sense these apps all work on Windows Phone 8.1.

Sionic Ion said,

Windows RT is too bloated for the ARM architecture. That doesn't mean it is going away. But I believe the concept is to replace the Windows RT core platform with Windows Phone 8.1 as the backbone and call it Windows RT 8.2 or whatever version number. There wouldn't be a difference because they are taking the front-end of Windows 8/RT and porting it to Windows Phone 8, and as you would expect from the article, running it on a 10-inch display would be supported. The only difference is the UI would be much faster because the parts from x86 Windows wouldn't be there like the Desktop. It would increase battery efficiency too.

This kind of reminds me of going normalizing a database - taking a database design and going through the "Normal Forms" process until you hit 5th normal form or 6th normal form... it's not easy especially if you start with a fairly large database.

It's going to take Microsoft awhile to do this. And then they will have to repeat it.