Microsoft, Windows, and Sony: Marry, boff, or kill

Microsoft seems to be asking itself that very question as it drops hints about the death of Windows and a union with Sony

Is Microsoft planning something really big? My Magic 8-Ball says, "Signs point to yes." (It might also say, "Reply hazy, try again" -- the little window is really smudged.) Exactly what the Redmond reprobates have in store, though, is anyone's guess.

Let's start with This Is My Next, the new Not-Engadget-but-an-Amazingly-Lifelike-Facsimile launched by Joshua Topolsky and staffed almost entirely by former Engadgeteers, where blogger Nilay Patel asks, "Is Windows dead?"

[ Also on InfoWorld.com: Details of Microsoft's next desktop OS are starting to slip out, but Cringely wonders if anyone will still care by the time Windows 8 ships. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. ]

Answer: No, silly. It's always smelled like that.

The reason Patel asked about Windows' apparent rigor mortis is due to comments made earlier this week by Andrew Lees, president of the Windows Phone Division, at Microsoft's Worldwide Partnership confab. The money quote here revolves around the phrase "unified ecosystem." To wit:

... the change that's yet to happen, but it's about to happen ... is the bringing together of these devices into a unified ecosystem, because at the core of the device itself it's possible to be common across phones, PCs, and TVs, and even other things, because the price drops dramatically. Then it will be a single ecosystem. We won't have an ecosystem for PCs, and an ecosystem for phones, one for tablets. They'll all come together.

Patel seems to think this means Microsoft will be ditching Windows entirely. But Lees could well mean the opposite -- that Microsoft will be ditching all its other OSes, including the one powering the Xbox 360 -- for some variant of Windows. That would be absolutely consistent with the vision espoused by Bill Gates since he was only a millionaire in knee pants -- utterly brain dead, but consistent.

Of course, as ZD Net's Mary-Jo Foley points out, just because it says Windows Windows Windows on the label label label doesn't mean it's delivering the same code to your table table table. The Windows Embedded Compact OS that runs on some settops isn't the same as the cloud OS Windows Azure or Windows Phone 7 or even Windows 7 on your PC.

Each, in other words, sucks in its own very special way.

Lees also went on to say the following:

You see if you looked at the update that we're providing to Windows Phone this year, we include a new browser. It's Internet Explorer 9. It's the same technology that we have on the PC. It's not similar. It's the same. So, we can take the advantages that we provide on the PC and immediately leapfrog and provide those across different types of devices...

My interpretation of that Lees tease: IE9 will be the glue that marries all these disparate devices together, not the underlying OS. So apps that run inside IE9 on your desktop will run on your phone, tablet, Xbox, or what have you.

Is this truly feasible? Lord knows. But it's a lot more appealing to have just one app store for all your hardware platforms. I also anticipate the day when the Mac OS takes a dirt nap and the iOS reigns supreme for all devices with an Apple logo on them. It just makes sense.

But don't expect Microsoft to ditch the Windows brand, regardless of how tarnished it is.

Meanwhile, in other interesting news, just yesterday Microsoft registered two very interesting domains: Microsoft-Sony.com, and Sony-Microsoft.com (as first noted by Eurogamer). What does this mean?

It could mean Microsoft is making an enormous bet by merging with Sony and finally getting into the consumer hardware business in a big way. It could mean that Sony and Microsoft have decided to combine efforts on a future Xbox-PlayStation hybrid to leave the Wii choking on their dust. It could be a defensive domain registration designed to keep miscreants from squatting on it and/or posting something nasty. Or it could mean nothing whatsoever.

Gentlemen and ladies, start your speculation engines.

So Sony-Microsoft or Microsoft-Sony -- what do you think it means? Post your highly informed and deeply analyzed opinions below (add a comment). Or just do what I do and make something up. You can also email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Microsoft, Windows, and Sony: Marry, boff, or kill," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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