Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

Ballmer Didn’t Necessarily Say Full Windows Is Coming to Phones, but Might It?

Much is being made over Steve Ballmer’s statements Tuesday at Microsoft’s annual shareholder meeting, which some have taken to indicate that Microsoft plans to bring Windows 8 to the phone.

While answering a question about whether or not we are in a post-PC era, Microsoft’s CEO insisted that Windows would continue to be at the center of things.

“We are in the Windows era,” Ballmer said. “We were, we are and we always will be. That’s kind of what we get paid to do.”

Here’s where things get a little tricky. During the next part, Ballmer talked about several initiatives that the company has going on around Windows and makes some comments that at least one reporter took to mean that Windows 8 is coming to the phone.

Here’s what Ballmer said (I’ve used ellipses to mark where there are brief pauses):

“We’ve got broad Windows initiatives … driving Windows down to the phone … with Windows 8 … you’ll see incredible new form factors powered by Windows from tablets, small, large, pens, smaller, bigger, room-size displays. We are in an era in which the range of smart devices is continuing to expand. That’s a fantastic thing for Microsoft. That is a real opportunity.”

So the question is, in which phrase was he referring to Windows 8? From listening to the audio — I wasn’t in the room — it’s tough to tell whether the Windows 8 piece is part of the sentence about the phone or part of the next one. (I recommend listening to it for yourself. It’s at about 47:30 into the webcast, which is available from Microsoft’s investor relations site.)

But here’s what we do know. Microsoft is moving its phone and desktop operating systems closer together.

Things are furthest along in the look and feel department, where Windows 8’s new look bears a striking resemblance to Windows Phone 7. The Metro look that pervades the phone operating system is at the heart of the new start menu for Windows 8 that Microsoft first showed off at our D9 conference in June.

What has yet to happen is the opportunity for developers to write code once and have it run seamlessly on phones, PCs and tablets. Likewise, consumers can’t buy software that runs on all three devices.

Microsoft has made moves to separate the tools developers use to write their programs from the underlying hardware, be it PCs or phones. With Windows Phone, developers are writing their applications in either Silverlight or XNA — the tools first used to develop for the Xbox. With new-style Windows 8 apps, developers are writing in various Web languages, including HTML5 and Javascript. Microsoft is using this approach, among other things, to expand Windows to run on both traditional PC processors and those using the ARM core found in smartphones and tablets.

That leaves the door open for Redmond to make any number of changes, including moving the phone and PC to a more common architecture, without necessarily forcing developers to do another rewrite.


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