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Here's how Windows finally caught up to Microsoft's 'Windows everywhere' vision

Mark Hachman | May 4, 2015
With Windows 10 and its universal apps, Microsoft finally has a chance to take Windows where it's never gone before: everywhere.

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Microsoft is poised to make Windows 10 truly universal. Universal. Think about that for a moment.

PCs. Phones. Tablets, notebooks, desktops. Robots. Even holograms, for Pete's sake. Windows, Android, and iOS. Write once, run anywhere--it's been a software cliche for just about forever. Yet the combination of Microsoft's Windows 10, universal apps, and the emerging Continuum vision now seems poised to make it a reality. 

By the time Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella left the Build stage Wednesday, he had collected code written for iOS and Android under the Windows umbrella. Executives had described how Windows phones connected to a monitor can serve as actual, tiny PCs--what Microsoft calls Continuum for phones. And apps written for PCs can even run as holograms on Microsoft's HoloLens. 

In all, Microsoft's vision of 1 billion Windows 10 devices suddenly seems downright conservative.

Just two years ago, the conversation surrounding Microsoft focused on how average consumers hated Windows 8's crazy-quilt interface. We talked about how Windows Phone was fading fast, and how developers were flocking to Android and iOS. Apps written for Microsoft's phones, tablets and PCs barely talked to one another. Not only was Windows far from universal; it was barely treading water.

But that conversation is changing. "I think it's really promising," said Brian Blau, an analyst with Gartner, of the vision Microsoft outlined Wednesday. "And it really shows a different face of Microsoft."

Windows: a vast, untapped market

Microsoft's mobile initiative has always struggled with a very particular problem: developer fatigue. Small apps developers--heck, even large ones--have simply lacked the resources to support more than two mobile platforms, and their first choices have always been Android and iOS. Consider that just under 1.5 million Android apps are in the Google Play store at the moment, and a comparable number of iOS apps live in Apple's App Store. Last year, the Windows Phone store housed 300,000 apps. Yeah.

But now, what Microsoft is calling the Universal Windows Platform changes the rules of the game. Microsoft's operating system chief, Terry Myerson, said that developers will be able to pull in code from .NET and Win32 programs, sandboxed to protect the user from downloading a malicious app. Developers will also be able to "reuse" Android code written in Java and C++, as well as iOS apps written in Objective-C.

If coded correctly, the resulting universal apps should scale to fill different display sizes, tie themselves into Cortana, and be able to send notifications to users. But that's gravy. The Universal App platform is a way for developers to create a single application to run on the full range of Windows 10 devices, and that's the most attractive words a developer can hear.


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