There's reason to hope Windows 9 will be better

Microsoft's new head of operating systems group, Terry Myerson, gets it. But will he have the fortitude -- and backing -- to build a better Windows?

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The two approaches to WinRT didn't grow together, they grew separately. Sinofsky grafted one version onto the desktop in Windows 8. Myerson built a different version for the new Windows Phone 7 platform, changed it significantly for Windows Phone 8, and ne'er the twain shall meet. That said, there's some progress. Windows 8.1's WinRT has a few concessions to smaller devices. Windows Phone Blue (8.1? 8.5? who knows what it'll be called) is said to have some serious scaling capabilities. But the two flavors of WinRT are still very different. Even though the desktop-down WinRT and the phone-up Windows Phone Runtime are rapidly converging, one is from Venus and the other from Mars.

The existence of two Windows Stores reflects the underlying problem: There's a Windows Store for the desktop-down version of WinRT, and a Windows Phone Store for the phone-up Windows Phone Runtime. They're as different as night and day -- and that's a big part of the problem for Windows developers looking for mobile markets.

In May 2009, Ray Ozzie talked about "three screens and a cloud," with the three screens being the size of a phone, a PC, and a TV and with solutions "delivered to us in some coherent way" to each of the different screen sizes. That's the goal here, but from the developer's side -- to make the development tools scalable to all screen sizes and amenable to cloud glue.

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but I think it's possible we'll soon see a merging of all the touch-centric pieces under a single umbrella programming paradigm, which you could call WinRT. That was Lees' vision more than two years ago. Now, with Myerson in charge of the whole shooting match, it may come to reality.

Myerson has been talking about the approach, although in typical Myerson fashion the public words are few and far between. At the Microsoft financial analyst's meeting last week, he said:

We should have one set of developer APIs on all of our devices. And all of the apps we bring to end-users should be available on all of our devices... Windows RT was our first ARM tablet and as phones extend into tablets, expect us to see many more ARM tablets, Windows ARM tablets in the future

The legacy desktop Windows Win32 apps aren't going to migrate from mousing Intel to tapping ARM anytime soon, but if you interpret Myerson's statement as referring to new apps, we have a glimmer of hope. Perhaps there's a retro niche that can be carved out for the old-fashioned desktop, a separate legacy island that can be showered with benign neglect, while the breakneck development cycle focuses on WinRT running on all platforms. 

With one foot in Exchange and the other in Windows Phone, Myerson may be able to figure out how to get a Windows 9 -- several Windows 9s -- out the door in a way that respects the proclivities of both mousers and tappers. One can only hope.

The future is mobile. No doubt about it. But the past -- and the present -- needs better desktop support.

This story, "There's reason to hope Windows 9 will be better," was originally published at 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 on Twitter.

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