So here's an interesting coincidence: Tuesday at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, Andy Lees said that Redmond would eventually have just a "single ecosystem" for PCs, phones, tablets, and even the TV. "You can have full PC compute power available in whatever form factor you like," said Lees, noting that the Windows on ARM demo motherboards were smaller than mobile phones. "We won't have an ecosystem for PCs, and one for phones, and one for tablets -- they'll all come together." Lees went on to say that Microsoft wants to provide "coherence and consistency" across different devices, "particularly with Xbox," and that the goal isn't just to share UI, but also core technologies like Internet Explorer.
Turns out that almost exactly describes something we heard from a source the other day, and we've got some more details that point to a far more radical plan within Microsoft. What we've been told is that Microsoft is planning to somehow harmonize not only Windows for PCs and Windows Phone, but also the Xbox operating system sometime within the next four years -- a timeframe that perfectly lines up with both the end of the Xbox 360's 10-year lifecycle and the end of Windows 8's expected three-year run. That would mean Microsoft's next next OS will run on PCs, tablets, phones, and the next-gen Xbox when it hits sometime in 2015 / 2016. Yes, it sounds crazy, but it fits perfectly within the broad outlines Lees confirmed during his keynote yesterday. And that's not even the wildest part.
Our sources also tell us that Microsoft is seriously considering ditching the "Windows" brand name in favor of something new when all this goes down. The idea is to rebrand this new super-OS with something that better fits with Redmond's vision of the future. Obviously that could well change over the next few years as this plan takes shape -- Steve Ballmer in particular has always been quite enamored with the Windows brand -- but dropping the name is apparently at least on the table, and that's a big step.
There are two ways to look at this plan: first, it's definitely a bold bit of forward thinking by Microsoft, and it allows the company to leverage development efforts across multiple platforms while providing the opportunity for a massive fresh start in the marketplace if and when the new branding is unveiled. But having a single OS and UI paradigm across multiple devices and screens is also more or less a return to the vision Microsoft threw out when it tossed Windows Mobile, if you think about it. After all, it wasn't so long ago that Redmond's Windows Phone reboot mantra was "the phone is not a PC," but now it seems everything else is turning into a phone, running the Metro UI on an ARM SoC. And Microsoft's tried and failed to put variants of Windows in the living room several times: first with Windows CE on the Sega DreamCast and then with Windows Media Center, which has sadly been all but forgotten.
Of course, the difference this time is that Microsoft isn't just trying to put desktop Windows everywhere, but rather trying to tailor core technologies and interface ideas to specific devices and experiences -- a strategy that seems much more likely to succeed. We'll just have to wait and see how the company decides to bring its various platforms together -- and whether or not we'll call it "Windows" when it happens.