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Is Microsoft preparing one Windows operating system for PCs, tablets, and smartphones?

Reading between the lines of what Microsoft execs told 15,000 of the company's partners during their annual conference event this week, it appears that a unified Windows is indeed on the way. But it's unclear how far it will go. The company is likely preparing a common operating system "core" that will allow developers to build applications across multiple devices.

This week, All-About-Microsoft's Mary-Jo Foley pointed to mobile group chief Andy Lees, who spoke at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) about bringing together different devices "into a unified ecosystem." Lees said:

At the core of the device itself it's possible to be common across phones, PCs, and TVs, and even other things, because the price drops dramatically. Then it will be a single ecosystem. We won't have an ecosystem for PCs, and an ecosystem for phones, one for tablets. They'll all come together. And just look at the opportunity here.

A day later, chief operating officer Kevin Turner said something similar: "Our future at Microsoft is the ability to unify the ecosystems and the user experiences. It's the ability to enhance those ecosystems with great cloud services," Turner said. Then he added:

So, when you think about the next release of Windows running across x86, ARM, system-on-a-chip, the opportunity to put Windows with an OS that is scalable across those platforms exists in a new and profound way. And where we go in the future of unifying these ecosystems is certainly going to be an exciting ride, but a big, big step forward is about to get made with Windows 8, and this is really important for you to understand.

Turner punctuated his comments with a nod to Apple. Apple has five platforms – iPhone, iPad, iPod, Mac and Apple TV – that run either Mac OS or iOS, and there has been talk of unifying the two operating systems. "It's your guess as good as mine on whether they'll ever unify Mac and iOS," Turner said.

According to a piece in This is My Next, Lees' words confirm what other sources have said. "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," the site said "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."

When Microsoft talks of the "ecosystem", it's describing many things, from those making the hardware that runs Windows and ISVs who build Windows apps to those supporting and integrating Windows. It's a term that Microsoft also uses to describe the developer tools around Windows and the plug-in providers around the developer tools.

Microsoft wants to allow application developers in this ecosystem to write their apps and have them run on as many different devices as possible. It wants to unify the partner ecosystem. It doesn't want some ISVs writing apps for one class of device, like a PC, and other ISVs writing apps for another, like a tablet.

Enter Windows 8. It will straddle two form factors: PC and tablet. Microsoft is planning a new application programming model for Windows 8 codenamed Jupiter, with an XAML/UI layer on top of Windows APIs and frameworks. According to MJF: "The idea is Jupiter will bring support for smoother and more fluid animation, rich typography, and new media capabilities to Windows 8 devices."

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