Microsoft CEO announced for the first time what has been rumored for a long time

In Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Q4 FY2014 earnings call, new CEO Satya Nadella offered up the most explicit confirmation yet, that Windows Phone, Windows, and Windows RT will be merging into a single cross-platform OS, with unified app support, styles, and core apps/services, with the release of next year's Windows 9.

In the call he stated:

Our mobile and cloud opportunity views informs our decisions on what to build and where to invest. More specifically, we use the following three principles to guide our investments. First, focus investments on the core, productivity experiences and platform investments will prioritize across engineering, sales, marketing as well as M&A.

Second, consolidate overlapping efforts. This means one operating system that covers all screen sizes and consolidated dual use productivity services that cross life and work.

In the year ahead, we are investing in ways that will ensure our device OS and first party hardware aligned to our core. We will streamline the next version of Windows from three operating systems into one single converged operating system for screens of all sizes.

We will unify our stores, commerce and developer platforms to drive a more coherent user experience and a broader developer opportunity. We look forward to sharing more about our next major wave of Windows enhancements in the coming months.

Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Heather Bellini of Goldman Sachs (GS) squeezed out a bit more info from Mr. Nadella in the Q&A session.  She remarked:

Great. Thank you so much for your time. I wanted to ask a question about – Satya your comments about combining the next version of Windows and to one for all devices and just wondering if you look out, I mean you’ve got kind of different SKU segmentations right now, you’ve got enterprise, you’ve got consumer less than 9 inches for free, the offering that you mentioned earlier that you recently announced. How do we think about when you come out with this one version for all devices, how do you see this changing kind of the go-to-market and also kind of a traditional SKU segmentation and pricing that we’ve seen in the past?
Windows 9
[Image Source: Windows Store (Wallpaper App)]

The comment, essentially probed whether Microsoft would also be moving towards a more unified approach on the enterprise end as well.  The answer, apparently, is know -- which is probably what most IT folks and power users were hoping to hear:

Yes. My statement Heather was more to do with just even the engineering approach. The reality is that we actually did not have one Windows; we had multiple Windows operating systems inside of Microsoft. We had one for phone, one for tablets and PCs, one for Xbox, one for even embedded. So we had many, many of these efforts. So now we have one team with the layered architecture that enables us to in fact one for developers bring that collective opportunity with one store, one commerce system, one discoverability mechanism. It also allows us to scale the UI across all screen sizes; it allows us to create this notion of universal Windows apps and being coherent there.

So that’s what more I was referencing and our SKU strategy will remain by segment, we will have multiple SKUs for enterprises, we will have [one] for OEM, we will have [one] for end-users. And so we will – be disclosing and talking about our SKUs as we get further along, but this my statement was more to do with how we are bringing teams together to approach Windows as one ecosystem very differently than we ourselves have done in the past.

In other words Microsoft will stick to its SKU approach, which provides certain premium features to power users both on the consumer/OEM side and the enterprise side.  The goal of the Windows unification is more about a common code-base, a common look, common tools, a common app market, and common access to cloud services across all devices.  Clearly some devices on the enterprise end (e.g. server) will likely be excluded, as their code base is more radically different from a client PC.  But at the end of the day code and functionality will be shared across virtually all clients.
Microsoft has already started the unification process on the consumer side with both its "Modern UI" (Metro) -- which brought a consistent style to Xbox, Windows Phone 8, Windows RT, and Windows 8.  It took things to the next level with its "Universal Apps" program, which rolled out cross-platform sales options, a streamlined approval process for cross-platform apps, and other developer-geared changes.

IE 11 cross platform

Windows 9 -- code-named "Threshold" -- is also internally referred to as Windows "vNext", according to Neowin.  One key addition will be the return of the Desktop Mode Start Menu.  We can expect Windows 9 to land sometime in April or May 2015.

Sources: Microsoft [call transcript, Yahoo], Microsoft [Q&A transcript, Seeking Alpha]

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