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Ballmer pushes 'family of devices' as Microsoft's new mantra

Gregg Keizer | July 15, 2013
Windows now simply a 'shell,' says CEO.

"Developers must be able to target all our devices with a common programming model that makes it easy to target more than one device," wrote Ballmer.

Ballmer word cloud
A word cloud based on Ballmer's memo shows the emphasis on "devices" and "family." (Image:

Currently, although Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone share a kernel, they do not share a complete code base; apps written for Windows 8 and Windows RT, for example, cannot run on Windows Phone 8, and vice versa. A "write-once-run-many" model would give Microsoft an advantage even Apple doesn't enjoy: Apple's ecosystem is not singular, as its iOS apps are incompatible with OS X.

"We will have one technology base to enable us in core areas, as opposed to two, or more," Ballmer said during the call, referring to, at the least, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, with Windows RT tossed in to arrive at "or more."

"The best way to get to one technical base or one technology base is to make sure that we're pulling together things and having people collaborate where they need to, not duplicating efforts," Ballmer added.

The experts applauded Microsoft's decision to gather all Windows development under one organizational umbrella. Terry Myerson, formerly the head of Windows Phone, will lead an Operating Systems Engineering Group encompassing all platforms, including mobile phones, desktops, notebooks, tablets and even game consoles.

"Having all the OSes under one roof was long overdue," said Bob O'Donnell, an analyst with IDC.

David Cearley of Gartner used the word "synergy" several times in an interview yesterday as he opined on the OS consolidation under Myerson. "This is positive, and will provide greater synergies and let Microsoft deliver on a common OS," Cearley said.

If word and phrase count matters, Windows will, in fact, be relegated to a supporting role, a radical demotion for the operating system that defines Microsoft for most customers.

"Windows" was mentioned only three times in Ballmer's memo, and in what detail he provided about its place within the company, referred to it six times as simply a "shell."

"We will continue to reinvent the core 'shell' of our family of devices and build upon what we have started with Windows 8," Ballmer wrote [emphasis added]. "We will keep evolving our new modern look, expanding the shell so that it allows people and their devices to capture, store and organize their 'stuff' in new ways. Our shell will natively support all of our essential services."

Microsoft has taken a page from Apple's playbook here: Customers know "iPhone," "Mac" and "iPad," but not "iOS" and "OS X." Microsoft aims for the same end, where the operating system is not dominant, perhaps not even marketed as it has been for decades, but as merely one component of a device.


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