Developers clamor for unified dev tools for Microsoft's 3 OSs

Analysts expect a long-term integration of smartphone/tablet/desktop OSs

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Having fewer apps to write for Microsoft's various platforms could persuade some Android or iOS developers to move over to Windows as well, some analysts said.

While it might seem like a good idea to have a single code across Microsoft platforms, some analysts said there will still be developers who want customers to pay for a separate version of a game or app for each hardware platform, if only to raise more revenue. Those developers should have the right to continue to charge for separate apps used on each platform, the analysts said.

Dulaney said integrating its operating systems would not necessarily give Microsoft a market advantage over iOS or Android, even though it would be desirable for developers to do so. "All users care about is if an app is there in an app store or not," he said. "How it got there is an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) issue."

Building a unified development environment

With a common kernel, Windows Phone and the mainstream OS have been effectively merged for a couple of years already, said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "There is already a more or less unified development environment," Gold said. "That said, there are now and will be in the future, differences between a phone-based OS and a tablet and PC-based OS. If you try to eliminate the differences and merge them into one common OS code base, you will end up with compromises that don't optimize either platform."

Gold noted that there are many 3G and 4G components in the phone OS that aren't needed in the core OS for PCs or tablets, while there are "lots of networking-specific DLLs [Dynamic-link library] and other executables that have no place in the smartphone world."

Gold noted that optimizing for battery life on a smartphone versus optimizing for raw performance on a PC are quite divergent design points. While tablets and PCs are aligned more closely in components, there are distinct differences that warrant "tuning" the OS to the platform.

Gold said the Microsoft operating systems will move closer together over time, as will Google's Chrome OS with Android. However, "I don't see them ever fully merging, since that would sub-optimize the various requirements and probably make the result less attractive for users and manufacturers," he said.

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said that what Microsoft needs more than a unified OS is a unified development environment, which he expects will emerge in the next 18 months. "A unified Windows OS risks being a light PC OS and too heavy for phones," he said.

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, said that with software virtualization, Microsoft potentially doesn't have to create a "one-size-fits all" OS. However, he said Microsoft seems to be on a path over the next five years of using an embedded core for all platforms where developers would add user interfaces that work best for a certain screen size.

Insights from Windows developers

Whether Microsoft's operating systems fully come together was the subject of some debate among four developers who were interviewed separately by phone and email. However, all four support a fuller common development environment across all the platforms.

James Vertisan, CEO of Vertisan Inc., a maker of golf-related apps, said it is "imperative to merge" Windows, Windows RT and Windows Phone, and he commended Microsoft for already offering a shared code base between the OSs.

He estimated about 75% of the source code is already in common. "There are things we can't re-use across platforms, such as the layout of a particular view, but everything else that lives beneath is synonymous," Vertisan said. A phone is primarily navigated vertically and displayed at 800 x 600 pixels, while a tablet, displayed at 1366 x 768, is navigated primarily horizontally.

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