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Will Microsoft Unify Their OSes?

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Intel’s CEO, Paul Otellini, hinted that Microsoft is trying to unify their operating systems into one OS that runs from phone to the desktop, his remark raising questions on Windows and Windows Phone 7’s future.

At CES 2010, Microsoft demoed the next-version of Windows running on various System-on-a-Chip (SoC) made by NVidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, all built on ARM architecture, using a low powered processor aimed at small devices such as phones and tablets. Running a full blown version of Windows on such a small device raised the question of whether Microsoft wants to bring their flagship operating system to phones. Steven Sinofsky, President of the Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft, mentioned that the future version of Windows would not cross paths with Windows Phone 7, and this port to ARM is meant to bring Windows to tablets, not to phones:

However, he [Sinofsky] was very clear that there would be no crossover with Windows Phone 7, ruling out the use of Microsoft's new smartphone OS on tablet devices. "[Windows] Phone is uniquely focused on small form factor," he said. "Small screen is Windows Phone, and these [tablet] screens are Windows."

But a week later, Paul Otellini, President and Chief Executive Officer at Intel, mentioned the possibility for Microsoft to “unify their operating systems”, having the same operating system running on all devices from smartphones to desktop PCs. He made the remark during a conference call with reporters:

The plus for Intel is that as they [Microsoft] unify their operating systems, we now have the ability for the first time: one, to have a designed-from-scratch, touch-enabled operating system for tablets that runs on Intel that we don't have today. And secondly, we have the ability to put our lowest-power Intel processors running Windows 8 – or 'next-generation Windows' – into phones, because it's the same OS stack. And I look at that as an upside opportunity for us.

It is not clear what Microsoft’s plans are. Are they trying to unify the various versions of their operating system, especially Windows CE and Windows desktop, now that Windows can run on low power devices? (Windows Phone 7 is a Windows CE-based OS.) Are they trying to follow Apple’s lead? iOS, Apple’s operating system for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Apple TV, was initially built from Mac OS X, and later some of its features were incorporated back into Mac OS X 10.7, a.k.a. Lion – multi-touch, applications running in full screen mode, launchpad, and others – making some to think that iOS and Mac OS X will converge over time, iOS being the name of this operating system remaining after merging is completed.

It is possible Microsoft will do the same, unifying their operating system from phone to desktop. The main problem is creating a specific user interface for phones. While the actual Windows GUI can run on a tablet without much tweaking, the GUI is not appropriate for a phone, be it a smartphone. The easiest way to do it seems to be putting Windows Phone 7’s GUI on top of Windows. It could be an operating system with two user interfaces, one for phones and tablets, and the other for netbooks, laptops, and desktops.

The divergent messages coming from Microsoft and one of its main partners, Intel, is creating confusion, weakening Window Phone’s position in the mobile market, a market where Microsoft is struggling.

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Community comments

  • Clash of objectives

    by Mike Gale,

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    Intel's aims include putting their chips on everything if possible.

    A critical thing here, is how does Intel view ARM. I have no inside knowledge but suspect that would like to grab a chunk of the ARM production. By numbers most popular chip in the world.

    ARM licenses it's design to manufacturers. Including now or in the past Alcatel-Lucent, Apple Inc., Atmel, Broadcom, Cirrus Logic, Digital Equipment Corporation, Freescale, Intel (through DEC), LG, Marvell Technology Group, Microsoft, NEC, Nuvoton, Nvidia, NXP (previously Philips), Oki, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sharp, STMicroelectronics, Symbios Logic, Texas Instruments, VLSI Technology, Yamaha and ZiiLABS. (from Wikipedia).

    Although Intel has (kinda) been in there that's a lot of other guys getting a bite of the profits from ARM chips.

    So I'd go with the MS announcement. (Intel has an rational reason to derail the apparent plans of MS.)

  • Unification

    by Ankush Borse,

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    It would be very interesting to see unification of OS by Microsoft. Currently it is kind of confusing to see multiple versions of OSs for different hardware and device type. It is of course challenging to make the unified code base work for different devices, processor architecture and hardware components but in long term it could be easy to port the OS anywhere from cloud through network to smallest hardware device. Very cool and neat to see, to learn and to understand this strategic move by Microsoft.

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