Does Microsoft's unified Windows strategy make sense?

By offering a unified Windows interface across desktops, notebooks, tablets and smartphones, Microsoft will finally become a major player in the mobile market.

I have never said anything nice about Microsoft. Adjectives that come to mind include "buggy," "expensive," "unreliable" and "slow." I've used many Microsoft products and essentially all of the operating systems since DOS 1.0, almost always with the same degree of glee (which is to say, none at all). Microsoft's release-after-release, way-too-many-versions brand of complexity has always been a thorn in my side.

But all of that is about to change:

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Microsoft's unified Windows strategy is absolutely brilliant and will be emulated by every company that intends to compete in the mobile and desktop OS market (including Apple).

The unified Windows difference

The value of Microsoft's unified OS strategy doesn't have to do with the tiled interface, Start screen, apps or the Windows Store. Those are just features that compete with what consumers are used to already. It's not about compatibility with Windows 7, and it's not about the cloud.

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The beauty of Microsoft's unified operating system strategy is that is offers a single experience across multiple hardware platforms and types of devices. Microsoft made a mistake in letting Windows CE, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone and all of the other failed mobile operating systems diverge so significantly from its core Windows vision. A common look and feel can lower the costs of staff training and support, which is absolutely vital as mobile devices proliferate in the enterprise.

Equally as important, it will be much easier for developers to produce apps that run on notebook, tablet and handset platforms. Windows RT runs on the ARM architecture, not x86, which adds potential complications. But Microsoft is still closer than ever to unity at the upper layers of the OS, especially the user interface.

Winning the mobile OS wars won't be easy for Microsoft. The company is quite far behind, and the bring-your-own-device trend works against the benefits Microsoft stands to gain: The unified Windows approach will appeal to IT admins, but not trendy, fashion-conscious end-user consumers.

The big question is whether Microsoft can really execute or not. There is a big difference between a strategy's promise and how that promise is realized. The new Windows products are now available, and we'll begin to see just what the unified operating system approach can do for end users and IT pros. I believe this bold strategy will work so well that Apple and Google will take similar approaches with their operating system strategies.

This was first published in November 2012

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