Write once, run on any Windows device? Maybe so

Microsoft says developers can write Windows programs that run on many platforms -- and might actually deliver this time

Two years ago, I posted a blog that explored the fantasy of One Windows to Rule Them All. Gartner had just released an opinion that read, in part, "[Windows 8] provides a common interface and programming API set from phones to servers." At the time, it was hogwash -- pure PR garbage. But at the Build keynote yesterday, Windows honcho Terry Myerson promised much the same.

Times have changed -- but have they changed that much?

Yes, there were slick demos at Build that showed how a program's core logic could be moved to a shared library, with platform-specific code tucked into suitable cubbyholes. Changes made to the interface on one platform -- Windows Phone -- made the app run better on that platform. Changes to the shared library rippled onto all platforms. A simple, quick recompile produced tailored code for each platform.

No doubt you're skeptical about demos. (Did you see the Build "demo" of the Windows 9 Start menu? I'm told it was faked, from beginning to end.) Plus, massive changes to a program that take place with a few clicks are highly suspect. But this time, I think there may be some walk to the Softie talk.

Why? Because the guy who's leading the charge this time around -- Myerson -- was on the receiving end of the bull two years ago. Back then, then-Windows chief Steven Sinofsky was trying to convince the world that his vision of the Windows RT API would scale from phones to servers. He just, uh, forgot to ask the guys working on Windows Phone. (He also pushed the Metro interface on Windows Server, to prove his point, but I digress.)

As I said two years ago:

The WinRT in Windows 8 is only vaguely similar to the "WinRT" in Windows Phone 8. I don't know how Microsoft dares to call the Windows Phone 8 API "WinRT." It's a bit like calling the operating system in a server "Windows 8" and the operating system in a telephone "Windows 8" as well -- and implying that the two are somehow scalable or even comparable. You'd have to enter a reality distortion field to believe a whopper like that.

This time, Myerson knows the server side. He knows the phone side. And heaven knows he's struggled with Windows, as have we all.

It's still much too early to know how much "API parity" Windows 9 will bring and how well the cross-platform tools will work. But if Microsoft manages to put Metro apps inside floating desktop boxes (à la ModernMix), sticks an abbreviated Metro Start screen next to the Windows 9 Start menu (as in that faked demo), and pulls the Store together so it dishes out apps that will work on any Microsoft platform, there will be very strong incentive for developers (developers, developers) to take a renewed interest in Windows.

It could happen.

This story, "Write once, run on any Windows device? Maybe so," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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