Microsoft Moonshot: Windows 9 Will Unify PC, Xbox, Phone, and Tablet OSes
June 2, 2014 9:38 AM
(Source: Nazmus Khandaker)
New cross-platform OS project is unprecedented, arguably largest software project in history
A new report
The Seattle Times
interviews some of Microsoft Corp.'s (
) top executives who describe the company's inspired new design direction.
With Windows 9, Microsoft is plotting quite literally the largest software project in history; combining operating systems from at least five platforms, cloud services, and dozens of software projects into one
tightly integrated cross-platform
bundle of software.
It's an incredible vision. And it's one that could change the entire industry.
I. The Path to Unification
A major part of why
Windows 8 had so many
rough edges was because it was an exercise in porting. But much as Windows Vista was -- in some ways -- a necessary stepping-stone to the more polished and beloved Windows 7, Windows 8 (
) was necessary as a stepping-stone on the path towards unification.
There was always a fair amount of code exchange between the mobile and PC OS trees of Windows. But in
the era of Windows Mobile
(2000-2010) that process was more infrequent and sporadic, with development of the two branches largely independent. With the
launch of Windows Phone
in 2010, Microsoft found its design direction -- the Modern (Metro) UI.
With Windows 8 and Windows RT, Microsoft looked to have greater code sharing between its various products. But internally the situation had not substantially improved. While Microsoft had a unified design and a number of share core features across its platforms, it now had four separate code trees -- Xbox, Windows RT, Windows, and Windows Phone. Each platform's OS group had a separate design and software team. When a change was made to core APIs or Modern UI in one of these platforms, it was a time consuming process to port them to the others.
The first change came late last year with
a leadership shakeup
unified Microsoft's OS design teams
under a single common banner. With
Windows Phone 8.1
(and the Xbox One), Microsoft began the Herculean task of
unifying pieces of its API
. But much work remained.
[Image Source: Windows Store (Wallpaper App)]
That work is reportedly culminating with Windows 9, Microsoft's first family of consumer-facing operating systems (OSes) to feature fully unified and synchronous development. According to
The Seattle Times
, Windows 9 will be a watershed release for Microsoft.
On the backend, Microsoft is approaching maximum unification for APIs. Form factors (touch, small screens, big screen TVs, etc.) mandate some specialist code, but for the most part Microsoft is reportedly aiming to give customers one look and feel across the smartphone, Xbox, tablet, PC, and tabletop computer (Microsoft's Perceptive Pixel offerings).
II. The Men Behind Microsoft's Moonshot
Two corporate vice presidents are leading the unification effort. On the software front, David Treadwell, 47, is leading the update. On the user interface (UI) front, Joey Belfiore (a
veteran manager of the Windows Phone team
), 46, is leading the effort.
Both VPs report to Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Operating Systems Group. In terms of consumer-facing products, one major result of the shifts in leadership was the emergence of the OS group as the leader in development direction -- a seemingly intuitive shift for a company who became a superpower thanks to its MS-DOS and Windows operating systems.
Terry Myerson, Microsoft EVP of OS Group
Mr. Myerson gushes about his two lieutenants:
Joe is just a magnificent painter. Dave is much more a plumber or electrician. Together we all come together and build this fabulous house that is Windows.
Joe Belfiore, Microsoft OS Group VP of UI Design
From now on, says Mr. Treadwell, expect a release to bring updates to all of Microsoft's major platforms. He describes this revolutionary approach -- which no other OS maker has achieved yet -- stating:
We had to finish Windows 8.1 Update, Windows Phone 8.1, Xbox One. Now that those are done, we are now on the same logistical schedules. We’re going to have one common OS schedule and everything’s going to be aligned with that. We’re doing common planning now, common priority, common release schedules.
David Treadwell, Microsoft OS Group VP of OS Development
What's more, the report quotes Mr. Treadwell as describing how earlier this year an internal memo circulated to nearly all of Microsoft's teams, generating a consensus set of features for the next generation multi-platform operating system. Mr. Treadwell describes:
Before, there was a Windows team, a Windows Phone team, an Xbox team. While there was general agreement of the value of (having a) common core and consistency of design, there were organizational lines that we had to cross to achieve that. There just aren’t these barriers now.
And these efforts weren’t limited just to the OS developers. They also worked with Microsoft's software and enterprise teams, including the teams responsible for Azure, Office, Bing, and Skype. The result is that Windows 9 should be giving each Microsoft software project the tools it needs to create a next generation experience.
The software side of things has already come to bear with
Microsoft's "Universal Apps"
, which offer
quick porting of a single app
across the PC, (HD) tablet, smartphone, and Xbox, with common permissions and bundled customer purchase options.
III. Why Windows 9 is a Game Changer
Steve Ballmer's 14-year reign
as CEO of Microsoft, there were
some high notes
, but in terms of market direction Microsoft undoubtedly
lost some of its glow
to consumers and investors. Companies like Apple, Inc. (
) and Google Inc. (
) emerged as real threats to Microsoft's hegemony of personal computing.
with Satya Nadella
tireless commitment to cloud-back services
and a unified Microsoft -- his "One Microsoft" vision -- Microsoft appears poised to be producing the most massive and efficient multi-platform project in history.
Both Apple and Google are headed in a similar direction.
OS X 10.10 is expected to take design cues
from iOS 7. But neither company appears as far along as Microsoft. What Microsoft is planning -- a singular cross platform update for large computers, consoles, PCs, tablets, and smartphones -- is unprecedented. It's never been done. Microsoft is also working to tightly integrate its packed stable of consumer software offerings into these updates, and it's an incredible vision from a technical perspective.
While casual consumers can look forward to a higher degree of polish, there's plenty for power users and enthusiasts to eagerly await, as well. Microsoft has already stated that either Windows 8.2 (an interim release) or Windows 9 will feature
the return of the Start Menu to Desktop Mode
. What's more, Microsoft engineers have hinted that Windows 9 may at last introduce multiple switchable desktops, a much beloved feature from Linux.
Microsoft is bringing the sexy Start Menu back. [Image Source: Redmond Pie]
Windows 9 is on pace for an
April 2015 release
. Windows for tablets and smartphones is expected to
continue to be free to OEMs
a major edge over Google's Android
of $5-15 USD per device
Needless to say, if Microsoft delivers what its promising with Windows 9, it could be a game changer for the entire industry, the effects of which could be felt for decades to come.
The Seattle Times
"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet. A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis
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