The future of Windows - Microsoft's devices head hints at further OS unification

Microsoft currently has three operating systems set up for different hardware. Should you be on a desktop, laptop or supported tablets, Windows 8.1 is what powers the system. Windows RT 8.1 is loaded on the Surface 2 and other tablets with ARM chips. Finally, we have Windows Phone 8 for smartphones. 

With Microsoft working on further uniting its services and software, how will Windows operating systems look in the future? According to Executive VP Devices and Studios at Microsoft, Julie Larson-Green, the company will no longer have three versions of Windows, but will unite all products under one umbrella.

Game engines are already starting to take advantage of how closely tied each version of Windows is. Now, during a Q&A held at the UBS Global Technology Summit, Larson-Green went into detail about how the company currently has all three versions of Windows, but this won't be the case in future:

"We do think there's a world where there is more mobile operating system that doesn't have the risks to battery life, or the risks to security. 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."

We've recently witnessed Microsoft working on uniting the backend systems of Windows, especially for developers. Should you be looking at building some content for either Windows or Windows Phone, Microsoft has now made it easier to develop for both platforms - cutting both cost and workload (with APIs, shared code, and more). 

Should we have a unified store front for consumers, as well as everything rolling together behind the scene, consumers will see a different Windows platform, running across supported hardware. Plans still have not been confirmed as to how the company will go about this, but we could see Windows RT and Windows Phone merging, while full Windows 8 remains the flagship product for desktops, laptops and Intel tablets.

Check out the document for more from Larson-Green.

Source: Microsoft, via: Neowin

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

124 Comments
  • Nothing new here
  • Well you forgot to say first...so that's something new ;)
  • So Microsoft is working on Windows NT 7.0 unify all in one? ARMv8 / Intel 64 hardware code in the same OS 8GB in size for all platforms.
  • All this talk about kernels is making me hungry for some Church's buttered corn on the cob...
    And, none of you better not make any black jokes about that....
    And some Kool-Aid would be nice.
  • Dammit, Rodneyej.  You're not helping, lol.
  • That sounds good❔
  • Grape Kool-Aid?
  • It's purple not grape.
  • It's grape, fooooool❕
  • You, sir, are a disgrace to the lower income black community. It was never called grape by any black person that had pride when wearing his holey wife beater. :)
  • Said while slapping me in the face with your white gloves.. Lol❕
    And, lower income❔Niqqa, you don't think Obama is drinking grape Kool-Aid in the white house❔... Lol.
  • No, wait, yes grape please.
  • "Three windows under one umbrella" it's ok, but what about the Windows based Xbox??? With a full join of programs for all platforms MSFT comes to have a real challenge.
  • Tbh that's not a bad idea, the metro UI was inspired by Xbox live, after all.
  • It actually began with Media Center.
  • Right you are media center ushered it all in
  • aha, media center is my most disliked windows feature, so i always disabled it lol
  • I think it actually began with the Zune HD
  • Windows RT on phones, tablet only devices, and the Xbox. Full Windows for desktops, laptops, and convertibles. That's what I want.
  • Ameen. Just don't call it RT. Call it something more classy... Windows "Spot On"! :-o
  • Nothing to see here move along
  • This is beautiful and I do wish for all the best. Thanks for sharing.
  • It is beautiful. Since its looking like WP is going to replace RT in a first step, I just wish they can get tile updates and notifications stable and reliable before they race ahead.
  • I'm not sure you can draw that conclusion. Tile updates have been fine since GDR3. No idea what you mean about notificaitons stable.  
  • Not exactly. Live tiles still update correctly and I have to go into the app for it to start working again.
  • Yes, this happens to me a lot. I only have the GDR2 update, so I can't speak upon how things are with the GDR3.
  • My live tiles hardly ever work properly, including big name weather apps etc, and yes i have checked background tasks, reinstalled stuff etc etc. Even my bing lock screen doesn't update.
  • I only ever had notification issues in WP7. They work flawlessly for me with WP8
  • I hope WinRT will replace WP8, i much prefer the OS on the surface to my windows phone for multitasking, printer support, and (limited) gesture based navigation.
  • That's what is going to happen. This is why all those vendor who stopped making RT tablets/hybrids will regret it, especially since the MS/Nokia deal has been approved and office is included free (Google docs being free is a non factor). With then unification of win 8/ win phone stores the app ecosystem should continue to grow as well.
  • No, they won't. They will replace Win RT with WP, with added features adopted from Win RT. That's the most possible option.
    And, yes, that will support printers and (limited) gesture-based navs, with the flexibility and robustness from Windows Phone, of course.
  • +920 I also prefer WinRT than WP. I really really enjoy multitasking and flash enabled IE of WinRT
  • Queen Julie should be the next CEO.
  • No.
  • Yes.
  • She's not ready. Give her a few years to learn the ropes. She stutters when she presents.
  • You stutter when you choke on dez....
  • Virtual Windows on RT. And RT and WP becoming one.
  • I don't think this is too much of a secret. There have been several articles about the Windows phone store and windows 8 store unifying. Windows RT and Windows Phone will eventually be the same. I think they are both running the same kernel anyways.
  • I believe all Windows versions are running under the same Kernal, same file system, and probably many identical services. It is a matter of unified APIs and GUIs.
  • Yeh nah mVIII. Moving on.
  • I think current gen phones wud not be supported for unification
  • Why not, they run on the same NT core that RT does?
  • I understand they share the same kernel but i guess Microsoft will state that it had to rework to unite the os and it wont be supported in current phones due to h/w limitations or so... Coz it wud be 2015 by the time they start uniting
  • Far reaching assumptions.
  • There is absolutely no reason for this... Microsoft dropped wp7 because they had to. They don't have some strange desire to drop people for no reason. Windows phone runs on the same hardware as windows RT.
  • Not really, more like " History repeats itself".... Said by someone who has used MS mobile OSes since the HP Journada.
  • Its just a guess till now i used to believe that current phones are upgradeable and it cud be until rt and wp unites ... But if trio ie rt, win8 and wp8 uniting may hinder this coz win 8 runs on x86 and latter on arm ... Lets see what ms has decided for its consumers
  • Current HW will be too obsolete I guess, by the time the unification of the OS occurred. So it won't be supported alright.
  • That's my concern too. If they don't allow an upgrade path for WP8 then I'm out. It would then be the third time they've screwed us over (6.5 - 7, 7 - 8, 8 - 9). We should at least be able to have our devices for say 3-4 years.
  • And..... The "..our devices will be obsolete!!" comments begin. Not that MS doesn't deserve some doubt, they need to show their dedication to their handsets/tablets to set theses kind of thoughts to rest. But I see no reason WP8 and WinRT hardware won't get supported. It is simple to see that the whole purpose of this process is to support the ecosystem. No way they shoot themselves in the foot by not proving their dedication to the platforms they are pushing.
  • I made that same argument with WP7 -> WP8 transition. While I recognise that the kernel changed between those OSs, it wasn't really reason enough to drop the older phones (there was some missing hw, non-critical afaik apart from the fact that WP8 doesn't run smoothly on single core).
  • Hopefully, this unified approach is done while keeping in mind the needs of each specific device format. If it leads to a poorer experience than other platforms that are made specifically for a single form factor, it may not be successful.
  • Like the idea
  • I hope Windows Phone becomes RT. A file system would put it over the top in my opinion
  • All versions become one, if you read the article :P
  • Dude, gimme a break. I just learned this reading thing a couple days ago :p In all seriousness, I didn't read the article :p I did read an article on PhoneArena that said there might just be two versions of windows though
  • Actually, if you read the article (and more articles on the topic), you see that the talk is about 2 systems instead of 3... not 1 system.
    A closed, simple system for phones and some tablets - and a full Windows 8 for desktops, laptops and some tablets.
  • nothing new to see .
  • What about the real windows? That makes me create and share all the apps I want, with the tools I like, and isn't just a Instagram viewing machine?
  • It makes sense since wp8 has the same kernel as w8.
  • Thought this wad the initial plan. Leys hope it doesn't take 3 years to get done
  • How about this :-) windows phone 9/RT on Future phones. its much better than current version. http://pzy.be/v/2/windows+phone+9.jpg
  • I like that, but those tiles must be smaller in appearance. Also, why are you linking to something that has porn on the page?
  • Terribly sorry guys. it was totally unintedted. here is new and safe link. http://s21.postimg.org/edusulo5z/WP_9_RT.jpg
  • Way too much unused space
  • Nice concept, but seriously, porn page? Really? Fail
  • Terribly sorry guys. it was totally unintedted. here is new and safe link. http://s21.postimg.org/edusulo5z/WP_9_RT.jpg
  • Terribly sorry guys. it was totally unintedted. here is new and safe link. http://s21.postimg.org/edusulo5z/WP_9_RT.jpg
  • fk you man, im at work
  • Well, I guess WP 8.1 will be the first glimpse, for consumers, of this unified vision.
  • I've always thought of RT as being a waste of time. Good to see it get put to sleep.
  • Is there a chance wp8 could be left behind this unification like wp7. That would really suck imo.
  • Microsoft should make the OS for Windows Phone customizable like from tiles to android kind to iPhone style that way we win and take over the mobile universe lol
  • They can unify WP and RT. They should have done that in the first place when launching tablets.
    But I don't think they'll ever be able to unify a mobile OS to the full Windows. And I sure as hell wish they never do. I want Windows of my PC to run normally as it has always run, I don't need all that silly stuff from the mobile version. Heck, I didn't need a "Store" in it in the first place. The "Store" for full Windows should be the pages of the products and the physical discs etc.
    You can think it's pretty hipster to have a "Modern UI" on desktop etc. But at the end of the day, enterprise and normal users don't want that. I think that was quite clear with the not good reception of W8. Change for the sake of change is always bad.
    So change the way WP and RT operate between them at will. Separate, unify, whatever. But leave normal full Windows out of it.
  • "but leave normal Windows out of it"... That's how I've always heard it, that RT & WP will merge one way or the other and become the OS for smartphones and basic tablets. While Windows 8 will remain on desktops, laptops and advanced tablets.
    I've never heard anything about dumbing down the full Windows 8.
  • I think people are concerned about the future of the Windows desktop/laptop because of what they did with 8. While you can still use the desktop, and with a number of different third party programs, can all but eliminate metro, it still feels like MS has made the desktop a complete after thought with Windows 8.
  • ^This.
  • I wish they would make the desktop an afterthought...  Problem is there are 2 forces pulling in 2 different directions with Windows, Consumer and Enterprise.  Enterprise is that slow moving beast that is still running XP and considering upgrading to 7.  Consumers buy what is sold at the big box stores. Enterprise needs the desktop to run their applications, whereas consumers can do almost everything on the Windows 8 interface.  MS is a victim of its own sucess...so many peoole are accustomed to living inside Outlook all day long, they wont give the mail app a chance, so they want the classic desktop at home too, and struggle with the concept of using the Modern UI.  So, the problem is this, Office drives the desktop.  When Office is no longer dependant on the desktop, expect the desktop to dissappear, however, the largest group that purchases office isnt the consumer, its the Enterprise...so until the business world adopts Modern UI, we are stuck with the dresktop. I like the idea of simplifying Windows for a developers perspective, and a consumers perspective, but what they really need to do is take Windows as it is now, and spilt it in to 2 options.  Modern for tablet/touch use and Desktop for business.  Dont give the tablets the desktop, but give them office productivity, and dont give the Enterprise the Modern UI, give them desktop only. And before you get all pissy at me about the people that want both, i say this...Remote Desktop! I actually like RT and wish it had more success, and my problems with it are trivial, things like adding plug-ins to the browser, like flash would be nice
  • A lot of consumers are holding onto XP as well (many on MS's own forums asking how to 'upgrade' from 8 to XP also). Since the desktop (or laptops) are far from dead for consumers, the move to a tablet interface was the wrong move. I had Windows 8.1 in for two weeks. At first I liked the tile interface, but after two days it felt gimicky and annoying. Aside from Flipboard, I couldn't find a single worth while app (more so one that didn't keep crashing). Twitter was just ok, but looked like a giant smartphone app on a 24" screen. I then removed every metro app I could and installed Classic Shell. Doing this I could at least avoid the metro UI 90% of the time, however on occasion I was still sent back to the metro UI (usually when something would crash, or when MS decided to reset a default program back to a metro one). I just hope that merging WP and RT together, MS doesn't mess up WP. My Lumia 520 is now my last device with Windows on it, and I actually like it quite a bit.
  • The problem is, many businesses use legacy third party software, some from vendors that no longer exist, and that will only work on the desktop, not on Metro.   For them, they'll *always* need the desktop.
  • I like the new desktop features of Win 8.
  • Have you ever used RT? 
  • I only hope in a better future for my 920 :D
  • I hate to say this, but this should have been MS initial plan instead of doing it later in future.
  • Who says it wasn't in the initial plan? It's not like this is an easy task.
  • "cost of flexibility" hopefully does not result in the same fate as windows phone 7.8.
  • Unification is a LONG TERM process. It will mainly come by giving more and more APIs to RT. RT will slowly, but surely, become more and more capable. It will eventually get to the point where it just makes more sense for devs to create all their applications on the RT side since it will be able to do everything that the desktop side could do. Desktop will stay around for a few Windows versions just like MS DOS stayed around for a long time with Windows.
  • There is a big difference between DOS to Windows and Windows to Windows RT.  DOS to Windows was a paradigm shift that the world quickly embraced as the obvious future.  Windows to Windows RT is a dumbing down, a reducing of functionality, of a need to completely re-write an application in order to make it work in a less functional, though perhaps more secure, environment.  And there are trillions of dollars more desktop applications today than there were DOS applications then.  There is not enough money in the world to recreate the desktop applications that people rely on as Metro apps, and at this point it is not even clear that anybody wants that.  The process will not start until whatever RT becomes looks like an upgrade to the desktop.  We're still several years and at least one major Windows release away from that.  
  • Windows was a dumbed down version of DOS at first. The process will take quite a while. RT will have to become very powerful, allowing dev access to pretty much everything. I wouldn't be surprised if the whole "unification" process exceeds 10 yrs, though I could see a big chunk taking place within 5. After that, the Desktop will mainly be considered "Legacy."
  • Quoting Julie "But, it also comes at the cost of flexibility."
    is my greatest concern going down this road. Will MS
    greatest creations winXP and win7 need to be stripped
    of feature and flexibility so it runs equally smooth on a
    baby phone CPU and the mighty i7? Will big Windows
    become feature bare as Mobile Office has become.?
    All welcome to share your thoughts on this.
  • i cant see the full win8 version being touched or dumb down and see the surface software being axed and replaced with the wp8 software !
  • They can't simply dumb down Windows because it's the core feature of way way way too many enterprises. Ok, they *can* but if they do they are really asking for the users to switch to another OS that doesn't present them with such a dumbed down, unproductive OS. And let me tell you...that OS will not be Apple's...now guess who can benefit from a dumb-full Windows.
  • How would the UIs, GUI, and OS change on the WP8 and RT when they unify them? Would the WP8 UI get on tablets or would my phone run some condensed version of the current RT?
  • Just because they are unifying the APIs and stuff, doesn't mean the UI needs to be identical, it just needs largely the same components.
  • Lets do this Microsoft.
  • They've got a few more OS's than just thee. They've got several embedded OS's still - which they really need to unify. Plus the Server OS.
  • "RT" SHOULD BE THE NEXT WINDOWS PHONE...
    PERIOD.
  • This would make surface 2 and 3 next year to be even more desirable since they'll all eventually work together.
  • Show of hands : Everyone that thinks full windows show come to WP ???
  • I just hope they dont forget people are still using keyboards & mice
  • Windows - an OS for all your devices.
  • More important is the news that Windows 10 will be a cloud based only OS.
  • As long as microsoft doesn't mess with their customers on  "digital road works" I'm fine with whatever direction they're taking. I just invested in windows 8.1, so I'm hoping to enjoy it for at least the next 5-10 years, with customer support still in place and further improvement of the OS, because in my experience there are still things to get right that microsoft did wrong in the end user experience that needs improvement today rather than tomorrow.
  • This was already hinted at but its nice that she is being so clear about it. We're already seeing the signs of a more united UI. Microsoft and Nokia are both releasing their apps with a distinctive color. For exampel the Bing apps dont follow the theme color at all. Nokia in turn has rebranded its music app which is now Pink instead of the theme color. Lastly the Here apps are now all Dark blue by default, a shade not available as theme color. This is all clearly aimed at making Windows Phone 8.1's UI look identical to Windows 8's UI. Making the transition to one OS easier.
  • And so I ask the question for the 4 millionth time:  What is the future of the desktop in Windows?  Has engineering just stopped entirely?  Will it be brought into "one Windows" somehow?  There are trillions of dollars of desktop software out there that are never being re-written as Metro/Modern/Store apps.  And there are people dependent on desktop applications to do their jobs that want them to continue to evolve, but by all appearances, the desktop is in mothballs.  Microsoft, we need direction here.  You are failing to provide us the direction we need.  
  • Look at MS DOS for guidance. It was still supported in Windows for a very long time.
  • Has engineering just stopped entirely? As of right now, yes. See the comments from AMD/ATI about no Direct3D 12. We *need* MSFT to continue standardizing the 3D hardware world, e.g. we need programmable blending stages. My guess is that we'll see "revenge of the desktop" in a year or two. It looks like MSFT is going to drop WinRT and focus on WinPRT, which means that the Desktop will regain the lead on large screen devices. I imagine that they'll run WinPRT apps in a window on the Desktop. It was stupid of MSFT to do WinRT/Metro on large screens in the first place. The businessmen in charge there probably thought that it would be a big moneymaker, thinking that sticking WinRT on systems that ship ~300 million/year (Windows computers) would automatically make it dominate user and developer mindshare (and bring in billions from their 30% cut). It didn't work out that way and, in fact, may end up costing them the company because users have abandoned the entire platform (and businesses are confused like you and me). I think MSFT can recover from the WinRT disaster but they need to start unwinding things soon. Users won't wait forever and there are viable alternative platforms out there (from companies with deep pockets).  
  • well, i dont see Microsoft merging x64 and ARM anytime soon,  maybe Windows RT and Windows Phone.
  • But there is no 3 version of Windows. Windows is one, Windows 8 and Windows RT are substantially the same OS, same kernel, same drivers model, same API (Exept for Win32), same GUI, same tools for developer.
    The only difference is that one run on x86_64 CPU and the other one run on ARM.
    Personally think that the only thing to do is make possible to run Windows Phone app on Windows or make more easy for developers to share much more code between WP apps and Windows apps. And i think that this is what Microsoft will do, I just think about the fact that Microsoft is investing in a version of Office with ModernUI and I do not think that Micosoft wants to cut out ARM tablet by using the full suite of Office
  • agreed. not sure why so many people are acting like this whole thing is a big deal. We've been over this before.
  • Talk, talk, talk. How about getting their a's into g and actually making this happen instead of talking about it every other week?
  • Oh yeah. Since it's such an easy task. Maybe they'll fit it in between fixing the economy and world peace.
  • And current WP won't be upgraded to next gen wp ( after unify with RT )
  • Years saying the same thing. When you don't have news you have to start repeating the same thing
  • I think windows user-experience should be consistent be it x86 or ARM or Phones... they should have an unified or same user-experience across the devices and and within a device (for ex: in Win-8 "Device settings" have modern-UI while "Devices and Printers" opens in desktop UI... while this is okay for me or people who use laptops... may not be for tablets)... I think the average user is very confused in using a RT tablet due to mixed interface (or probably because they became familiar with Android or iOS based tablets where experience is pretty much same as in phones) another one is unified experience for developers... obviously developers have to tune their app to each device independently (x86/ARM/Phone)... but MS should provide API/SDK that helps the developers a very-easy or seamless experience...  i.e. less over head in tuning and keeping the core of the app same
  • This ^ for us simple user folk (simple in a good way). Only use WP and Surface RT. Love it all but yes to more of a "oneness" to the user experience across the different gadgets please.
  • Very interesting to see this news. Not to promote myself, but back in July, I was using my tech blog (VeryTechnical) to spread the idea that the best way to make Windows Phone *blow up* was to kill the mobile OS in favor of Windows RT. http://verytechnical.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/an-idea-that-could-save-wi... Windows RT is already built to be strong, yet classifiable as a power sipper, and with scaling options the UI can fit smaller screen sizes very well. That way, we have native incredible gamepad compatibility (as opposed to Windows Phone where we have a whopping 4 games using MOGA), Windows' trademark flexibility and developers can make an app for one store that benefits both the desktop and mobile environment. That's a step ahead of what the competition is doing since both Apple and Google keep their desktop and mobile OS separate. Interesting to see that this is actually kinda happening!
  • Using my Surface 2 has made me realize how far ahead of Windows Phone, Windows RT really is.
  • Soon my big mama Lumia 1520 will be WP/RT or perfect whatever you would like to call it...
  • As long as the end goal is the same #BeatApple
  • MS will be golden when they make landscape mode look like windows 8.1
  • Does it mean that WP 8 is obsolete just like WP 7 is?
  • From experience, Microsoft do not have a game plan in any division that can see much more than 6 months ahead. And in fact this is recently a deliberate approach, becoming more agile, shipping more frequently and responding more quickly to the changing world. In the old days (2 years ago and prior) projects would take years with emphasis on achieving the perfect architecture and platform on which to ship products. Mostly what volume consumers ultimately don't care about. How many kernels, is the file system transactional, what .Net version, can it be virtualized, and so on. It took so long to build features, by the time it was done the demand had passed and gone. Entire teams scrapped after years of work. It doesn't fly and the approach has changed. Now, the important thing us to ship what is needed 'now'. MS has with Win8 pursued the tablet Market almost in parallel with the Phone market. The platform choice is secondary - getting stuff out the door is primary. It is always the goal and desirable to unify architecture, the difference now is that this is not the driver of the decision making. It will occur on going, as needed, and secondary to the success of the current consumer themes, namely phone and tablet penetration. The desktop is not less important in general, but it works as is and is not part if the current strategy, so it just kind of sits there enjoying the ride right now.