Is Microsoft’s dream of a unified platform dead?

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The more things change, the more they stay the same. This has all happened before, and it will probably happen again. Searching for that blue pill yet? Here we are, all dressed up in tight black leather and PVC and still no unified operating system to speak of. Are we in for another iteration of the Matrix, or will Satya Nadella pass through the door to the left and save Trinity, er I mean Windows 8.

We really have been here before. Microsoft attempting to unite all devices – phones, tablets, laptops, desktops – into one unified system that works the same way everywhere. Harken back to what may have been one of your earliest mobile devices. The Pocket PC? The Treo 700w? Do you remember Windows Mobile? Windows CE? This is not the first time Microsoft has had this program loaded through the spike in the back of its head.

Neo could've had an "eject me from the Matrix live tile if he'd used Windows Phone.

Neo could’ve had an “eject me from the Matrix” live tile if he’d used Windows Phone.

Once upon a time…

Back in the day, Windows Mobile even had a Start button and a Start menu for crying out loud. That was pretty darn close to unification, but it lacked something – a dark-lensed surfer perhaps – to bring it all together. Actually I suspect there were two things working against it back then and one of them is still in play today.

First of all, back in the Pocket PC days, it was a different time. Smartphones had barely crawled out of their pods and disconnected the wires in their heads. Smartphones were a luxury back then. There was nothing even approaching the ubiquity of the smartphone and the tablet today. Speaking of tablets, they barely existed at all, unless you count Stargate: Atlantis. The culture was drastically different back then – pre iPhone, which on a mobile tech calendar should be the division between BC and AD if you ask me.

architect_againErgo causality multi functionality whateverity

But the other challenge Microsoft faced back then is the same challenge they have today. Architecture. No, I’m not talking about the “This has all happened before guy” who speaks like a vomiting thesaurus. No, I’m talking about back end architecture. Apps weren’t designed to run on the variety of devices they had back then, nor are they designed to run on every kind of device today. There’s x86 processing and ARM processing. There’s Windows Phone development and Windows RT development (or so I’ve heard). There’s no unification on the back end, no matter what the front end looks like. It’s like there’s three different little green codes trickling down your screen when one is hard enough to decipher. So that’s a problem. But it’s not Microsoft’s biggest problem.

Microsoft also seemingly started to focus on consumers and left its enterprise customers to go along or get left behind. Guess which option most of them have chosen thus far. I touched on this on my last editorial, which was defunct five hours before its scheduled publish (Thanks Microsoft). But while backlash against Windows 8 has been severe from the consumer market, but it’s been downright painful from the enterprise market. It’s not just people who are opting not to upgrade; it’s companies too. You think a couple of hundred dollars not spent on one user’s computer hurts? Try 10,000 of those licenses, or 50,000, or 100,000 licenses not bought.

Ouchtown bro, population you.

Whoa. Deja Vu

Whoa. Deja vu

Bullet time speed

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, not unlike Neo’s cat. Microsoft changed too much, too fast for their user base and it didn’t bring enough WOW to justify it. You can change an operating system. You can rip out its guts switch them around and stuff them back in as long as the payoff is worth it. Windows 8’s payoff wasn’t worth it.

So let’s bring all this back to mobile. That is after all why we’re all here. Microsoft’s attempt at making one UI to rule them all would have done wonders for their mobile platform(s). Of course, if it was done right, there wouldn’t have been ‘mobile platforms’, just ‘a platform’.

These days, people want to touch their screens. They have been trained by hours and hours of phone usage to touch their screens. This is not a crazy concept. Using a touchscreen on a laptop or Surface is a different experience, but it’s still a valuable one. So I don’t think the concept of a unified platform is crazy, nor undoable. I just think Microsoft’s overall strategy and implementation were wrong. It doesn’t mean it can’t succeed some day, just not today. Zion will be reborn again.

It could happen...some day

It could happen…some day

I wanna be just like you

Windows Phone is a great platform. And it’s a little flattered that it’s much bigger and more successful brother tried to be just like it. The Metro/Modern/whatever UI is not a bad one. But it’s got a stigma attached to it now that will be hard to overcome. In the meantime is not doing any favors to it’s mobile baby brother. Can the ship be righted? I think so, but that’s all on desktop’s shoulders. Windows Phone isn’t doing that well in the grand scheme of things, but at least it hasn’t shown significant decreases. It’s been steady or slightly up, which is good since Microsoft seems willing to take the long view on mobile. Of course, if Microsoft does indeed give up on the modern interface on Windows Phone then I’ve just spent the last thousand words saying nothing, not unlike my other piece this week. But, like Microsoft hiring a Google exec to be CEO, I really don’t think that’s going to happen.

What the Oracle says will happen is Windows 8 is going to take some needed steps back. Windows Phone and Windows RT are going to make some sweet love and make a pretty little baby that runs like a champ on phones and tablets. Then that baby and Windows 8 will do a little dance and get down and finally a new way of doing things will be born – this time without all the mass panic and weeping.

And Neo will rise again. Whoa.

Editor’s note: Some in-depth conversations with Talha Basit helped shape this editorial. Thank you!

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs.Read more about Adam Doud!