A report from Digitimes claims that Microsoft is merging the next versions of Windows 8 and Windows Phone into a single product line. But one might argue that Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are essentially part of the same product family already, with their shared cores and other technologies. Is something deeper in the works at Microsoft?
I don’t believe so.
“The Windows Blue project is being developed by a team separate from the Windows and Windows Phone departments,” the report notes. But that’s not the case: Windows 8 “Blue,” which we now know will be called Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone “Blue” are being developed by completely separate teams and even have different launch schedules. Other releases in the “Blue” wave of products—including coming updates to and Windows Services (SkyDrive, Outlook, and so on) are also being separately developed, as is a related update to Office, code-named “Gemini.”
“The purpose [of the Windows ‘Blue’ project] is to merge the two operating systems to compete against Google's Android and Chrome, according to the rumors,” the report continues.
That would be interesting if it were true. But aside from the fact that there’s no single project called Blue at Microsoft, the reality is that Windows and Windows Phone are already, for all intents and purposes, a “merged operating system.” They are basically the same underlying OS, with the same underlying NT-based kernel, security, networking, and many other features.
For what it’s worth, I think merging Windows and Phone is a great idea. So great, in fact, that I publicly called for this exact merging about two months ago in "Hey, Microsoft: It’s Time to Pull Phone into Windows." But that doesn’t mean it's happening. In fact, from what I can tell, it’s not.
What is definitely happening, at least on the Windows 8.1 “Blue” side, is a merging of the user experiences between the two systems. For example, Windows 8.1 “Blue” is picking up some interfaces that debuted first on Windows Phone, including more configurable Start screen tiles and a consistent way of accessing all of the device’s installed apps. But Windows 8.1 “Blue” also differs from Windows Phone in some key ways, and some of those differences are being amplified in the new release. Given the usage differences between phones and PCs/tablets, this certainly makes sense, too.
For whatever it’s worth, this is essentially the same strategy that Apple employs for Mac OS X and iOS, the latter of which powers its successful iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices. Both are based on the same kernel and include many of the same technologies. And the past few releases of OS X have begun including ideas from iOS, like its grid-based app-launching UI and notification center. But they’re still very distinct and separate systems, with different product teams and development schedules.
So, too, it would seem, are Windows and Windows Phone.