Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella promises “One Windows” in place of three, but should that be two?

Microsoft released its latest financial results yesterday, on which I will post separately. However, this remark from the earnings call transcript (Q&A with financial analysts) caught my eye:

In the year ahead, we are investing in ways that will ensure our Device OS and first party hardware align 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 experiences and a broader developer opportunity. We look forward to sharing more about our next major wave of Windows enhancements in the coming months.

What are the three versions of Windows today? I guess, Windows x86, Windows RT (Windows on ARM), and Windows Phone. On the other hand, there is little difference between Windows x86 and Windows RT other than that Windows RT runs on ARM and is locked down so that you cannot install desktop apps. The latter is a configuration decision, which does not make it a different operating system; and if you count running on ARM as being a different OS, then Windows Phone will always be a different OS unless Microsoft makes the unlikely decision to standardise on x86 on the phone (a longstanding relationship with Qualcomm makes this a stretch).

Might Nadella have meant PC Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox? It is possible, but the vibes from yesterday are that Xbox will be refocused on gaming, making it more distinct from PC and phone:

We made the decision to manage Xbox to maximize enterprise value with a focus on gaming. Gaming is the largest digital life category in a mobile first, cloud first world. It’s also the place where our past success, revered brand and passionate fan base present us a special opportunity.

With our decision to specifically focus on gaming we expect to close Xbox Entertainment Studios and streamline our investments in Music and Video. We will invest in our core console gaming and Xbox Live with a view towards the broader PC and mobile opportunity.

said Nadella.

As a further aside, what does it mean to “manage Xbox to maximize enterprise value”? It is not a misprint, but perhaps Nadella meant to say entertainment? Or perhaps the enterprise he has in mind is Microsoft?

Never mind; the real issue issue is about the development platform and making it easier to build applications for PC, phone and tablets without rewriting all your code. That is the promise of the Universal App announced earlier this year at the Build conference.

That sounds good; but remember that Windows 8.x is two operating systems in one. There is the desktop side which is what most of us use most of the time, and the tablet side (“Metro”) which is struggling. Universal Apps run on the tablet side. The desktop side has different frameworks and different capabilities, making it in effect a separate platform for developers.

“One Windows” then is not coming soon. But we might be settling on two.

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2 comments to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella promises “One Windows” in place of three, but should that be two?

  • It’s possible that Microsoft plans to let you run metro style apps in desktop mode, letting you take advantage of the windows store for deployment and the better isolation that metro style apps currrently offer. This would, in a way, offer a write once run on any windows experince. However, the UI difference between desktop mode, where most users are using a mouse and keyboard and probably multiple screens, and phones/tablets, where it’s a single, relatively small, touch screen, will still mean your going need to maintain two versions of your UI.

  • Tom

    “Enterprise value” is a financial term, equal to market cap plus debt minus cash. It is the actual price that an acquirer would pay to buy a company, because it would pay off the debt and siphon off the cash.

    To speculate on what that means: Now that Xbox is finally profitable, Nadella does not intend to waste the money on wild goose chases, such as Xbox Entertainment Studios. Instead, he would like to spend it where it could earn a better return on investment. That may mean taking the money out of Xbox and spending it on Azure.