Steve Ballmer's audacious vision of "One Microsoft, all the time," delivering a single, seamless user experience across a wide range of devices, from PCs to tablets to video-game consoles, will not be achieved without digital bloodshed. Windows will die, a Microsoft exec suggested last week..
Or at least, some form of Windows will die. Speaking at the UBS Global Technology Summit last week, Microsoft device and services chief Julie Larson-Green strongly hinted that further unification is a-coming.
While the straightforwardness of Larson-Green's words is somewhat shocking, the meaning at their core is not. Microsoft has been moving toward a unified user experience for a long, long time now, as evidenced by the cross-platform nature of Windows 8 itself, along with the proliferation of Live Tiles everywhere. The sweeping company reorg that accompanied Ballmer's "One Microsoft" proclamation placed a single person--Terry Myerson--in charge of Windows for all platforms, and Myerson hasn't been shy about his plans for the overarching Microsoft universe.
"We really should have one silicon interface for all of our devices," he said at a financial analyst meeting in September. "We should have one set of developer APIs on all of our devices. And all of the apps we bring to end users should be available on all of our devices... We want to facilitate the creation of a common, familiar experience across all of those devices, but fundamentally tailored and unique for each device."
So which operating system gets the boot?
First things first: Windows 8 isn't going anywhere--at least not yet. The desktop is still a crucial part of the PC experience, as the multiple compromises in the Windows 8.1 update show.
Myerson gave another hint towards the future at the analyst meeting: "Windows RT was our first ARM tablet. And as phones extend into tablets, expect us to see many more ARM tablets, Windows ARM tablets in the future."
Both Windows Phone and Windows RT were designed for ARM processors, and while the two platforms are struggling in the marketplace, continued support for ARM's technology has crucial strategic value for Microsoft. A gentle merging of the two operating systems makes a lot of sense.
And indeed, a gentle merging of those two appears to be in the cards. Well-sourced rumors suggest that Microsoft's building a single, unified app store to bring the Windows Store and Windows Phone Store together into a cohesive whole, and we could see it as soon as next spring.
Larson-Green's words suggest that in the short term, Microsoft's sees the need for both a true desktop operating system as well as a more restrictive mobile OS.
"We do think there's a world where there is a more mobile operating system that doesn't have the risks to battery life, or the risks to security," she said. "But it also comes at the cost of flexibility. So we believe in that vision and that direction and we're continuing down that path."
No, the death of the desktop is not yet imminent. But make no mistake about it: The splintered fiefdoms that represent Microsoft's operating systems today are but a temporary blip as Ballmer and company get their cards in order.
In time, those fractured visions of Windows will die so that One Microsoft (and its focus on a common core and centralized cloud-based services) may live. Heck, one day a single flavor of Windows could power everything from smartwatches all the way up to table-sized tablets.