Windows 8.1 preview coming late June
The long-term issue of integrating Microsoft's OSs goes beyond changes expected in Windows 8.1, which Microsoft has teased for public preview on June 26 at its Build developer conference.
Meanwhile, a major concern for Microsoft has been a relative shortage of mobile apps, especially when compared to Apple's iOS and Android. The Windows Phone Store has about 145,000 apps and Windows Store has more than 70,000, Microsoft confirmed this week, but both Google's Play store and Apple's App Store have more than 800,000 apps.
To increase the number of Microsoft apps, Dulaney said it would generally help developers if they can run a single app across platforms for less maintenance. Those developers would still have to work on rendering an app for a different screen size, which Dulaney said can be done in a single development platform but would require training developers on the proper methodology.
Having fewer apps to write for Microsoft's various platforms could persuade some Android or iOS developers to move over to Windows as well, some analysts said.
While it might seem like a good idea to have a single code across Microsoft platforms, some analysts said there will still be developers who want customers to pay for a separate version of a game or app for each hardware platform, if only to raise more revenue. Those developers should have the right to continue to charge for separate apps used on each platform, the analysts said.
Dulaney said integrating its operating systems would not necessarily give Microsoft a market advantage over iOS or Android, even though it would be desirable for developers to do so. "All users care about is if an app is there in an app store or not," he said. "How it got there is an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) issue."
Building a unified development environment
With a common kernel, Windows Phone and the mainstream OS have been effectively merged for a couple of years already, said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "There is already a more or less unified development environment," Gold said. "That said, there are now and will be in the future, differences between a phone-based OS and a tablet and PC-based OS. If you try to eliminate the differences and merge them into one common OS code base, you will end up with compromises that don't optimize either platform."
Gold noted that there are many 3G and 4G components in the phone OS that aren't needed in the core OS for PCs or tablets, while there are "lots of networking-specific DLLs (dynamic-link libraries) and other executables that have no place in the smartphone world."
Gold noted that optimizing for battery life on a smartphone versus optimizing for raw performance on a PC are quite divergent design points. While tablets and PCs are aligned more closely in components, there are distinct differences that warrant "tuning" the OS to the platform.
Gold said the Microsoft operating systems will move closer together over time, as will Google's Chrome OS with Android. However, "I don't see them ever fully merging, since that would sub-optimize the various requirements and probably make the result less attractive for users and manufacturers," he said.