Microsoft: Phones, PCs, game consoles will eventually all run the same software

Once upon a time a computer was a big ole thing that took up a whole room. These days we tend to think of computers as desktop, laptop, or even tablet devices that don’t take up a lot of space, but which don’t fit in your pocket. But smartphones today have far more computing power than so-called personal computers of yesterday, and so do video game consoles such as the Xbox 360 or Playstation3.

So it should come as little surprise that Microsoft envisions a future where you’ll be able to run the same operating system across a range of devices including phones, game consoles, tablets, and PCs.

Speaking at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference, Andy Lees described how a single ecosystem could cover all of these devices.

Does that mean you’ll be able to run a full-blown version of Microsoft Office or Photoshop on your phone? Will you be able to make cellular calls from your desktop? Maybe. But my guess is that a few generations from now Microsoft will offer a version of Windows (or an operating system with a new name) that can run on multiple platforms — but not necessarily the same way on each.

Right now, for instance, you can run Windows 7 on a laptop, desktop, or tablet. But when you add a touch panel you get access to certain features that wouldn’t otherwise be present, such as support for flick-style gestures. When you’re using a mobile device, different power saving options appear. In the future, perhaps there will be a common core operating system, but it will behave differently on different devices — and the system requirements may vary depending on the type of device you’re using.

The key is that the core hardware and operating system may soon be the same whether you’re using a PC, TV, phone or other device. While Microsoft hasn’t quite gone as far as to say that a full-blown version of Windows will run on smartphones, the company is already bringing desktop-class software to mobile devices. Internet Explorer for the latest versions of Windows Phone, for instance, is already quite similar to what you get with Windows 7.

As for porting Windows Phone software to tablets, Microsoft instead insists that tablets should function as computers with access to full PC functions such as support for printers, networking, and USB peripheral devices. But the company has already ported some of the user experience of Windows Phone 7 to Windows 8, bringing touch-based controls to the desktop (and tablet) operating system.

The folks at This is My Next are pretty certain that all of this means that eventually Microsoft won’t have different operating systems for phones and tablets, but will instead offer a unified OS. I think it’s also possible that Microsoft will develop software that has certain core elements that are the same on different platforms — but which offers a different user experience on each device. In that world, Windows 10 for phones and Windows 10 for laptop computers may share an awful lot of code and be able to run many of the same applications without necessarily being the exact same operating system.

On the other hand, how cool would it be if you could just buy a state-of-the-art smartphone, plug in a monitor, mouse and keyboard, and never have to buy a laptop or desktop computer again? Somehow I can’t see a company that makes its money by selling multiple software licenses to the same consumer really pushing too hard in that direction though.

  • Someone

    Once Windows is compiled for ARM, and .NET is ported over so that a large body of software can run without being recompiled on that platform…  Yeah it’s just a matter of time before your smartphone is powerful enough to drive a full desktop OS and native apps…  The question will still be whether the interface makes that a useful proposition, which it is my contention that it does not.  Try editing a complex Excel Spreadsheet on a 4.3″ touch screen, I dare you.  That said the definition of exactly WHAT a personal computer is will change as  process shrinks make even the most powerful hardware capable of fitting in a palm sized device…  So they’re right to start saying stuff like this.  The only question is whether they will actually be able to implement it, or if someone will hyjack that future from them.

  • Daniel Alvarez

    Yes, Android.

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  • Anonymous

    Gotta get rid of ballmer first he is a drag on MS.

  • mobilemail

    Wow, just think if there existed an OS that was modular…a very simple core, with a variety of GUIs, window managers and drivers that would allow incredible flexibility across a range of devices…oh, wait, that’s Linux!

  • http://home.comcast.net/~tomleem BigGoofyGuy

    If Microsoft has some form on ever thing that has a micro chip, it would mean they would have a monopoly; IMO. I think having competition is not only good for improving products but also lower prices to consumers.

    I am glad there are other os’s that are being developed. I am watching ReactOS. http://www.reactos.org I am also watching eComStation. http://www.ecomstation.com

  • Anonymous

    I am looking forward to the day when my smartphone (or other portable device) becomes my only computer and I can just plug it into a monitor and input as a desktop, or into a tablet or laptop.
    So far in my life 2 of my tech dreams came true: Portable console gaming (gameboy) and a portable computer (smartphones).