A rumor making the rounds says that Microsoft will combine Windows Phone and its tablet operating systems by 2015, in much the way Apple has a united phone/tablet operating system. That makes sense. But what then happens to Windows?
The Russian Web site Mobile-Review claims that Windows Phone 9, tenatively scheduled for release in 2015, will be a complete re-think of a mobile operating system, and will be designed for both tablets and smartphones.
That's the way Apple has done it with iOS, and the way Google has done it with Android. That approach has certainly worked out well for both of them.
Microsoft took a different approach, and it's been disastrous. It instead designed Windows 8, a dual operating system for traditional PCs and for tablets. That's made no one happy, because it's a kludge of an operating system, combining a touch interface with a traditional keyboard-and-mouse one. The company's upcoming release of Windows 8.1 solves some of the problems, but not the core issue that Windows 8 is designed for two very different types of devices.
Not only have traditional PC users been unhappy with Windows 8, it hasn't jump-started Microsoft's faltering tablet strategy, either. Sales of its Surface line of tablets have been so poor that Microsoft just cut prices of the RT Surface by $150, down to $350.
If Microsoft does unite its smartphone and tablet operating systems, where does that leave Windows? Will Microsoft see the light and once again turn it into an operating system primarily designed for traditional computers rather than tablets?
I certainly hope so. The issue is not just that Windows 8 is awkward to use on traditional computers without touch screens. It's also that the operating system is getting dumbed down, particularly the apps written for it. I've looked at countless Windows 8 apps and have been thoroughly underwhelmed. They lack the power and sophistication of desktop apps, because they're designed to be quick-and-easy touch apps for tablets, not deep-dive applications for desktops and laptops.
That hurts Microsoft, because one of Windows' greatest strengths has been its massive ecosystem of powerful applications. By pushing developers to create simple, lightweight apps, that strength goes away.
So I hope that Microsoft does combine its smartphone and tablet OSes, and lets Windows be Windows -- an operating system for traditional computers that can run powerful applications on top of powerful hardware. Touch can be part of the equation. But it shouldn't be the whole equation, as it is now.