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Is Microsoft brewing a Win8, WinPho code merge?

Mobile chief now straddles both OS dev teams

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Microsoft’s Windows Phone chief Andy Lees has been given a new role, leading a stealth project straddling Windows Phone and Windows 8.

Lees, who’d served as president of Microsoft’s Windows Phone division, has been set to work on what CEO Steve Ballmer called a “time-critical opportunity focused on driving maximum impact in 2012 with Windows Phone and Windows 8”.

Microsoft’s chief executive didn’t provide any details in announcing the news, here, but said simply: “We have tremendous potential with Windows Phone and Windows 8, and this move sets us up to really deliver against that potential.”

Taking over as head of Windows Phone is Terry Myerson, who worked with Lees on Windows Phone 7 and 7.5. Lees has been with Microsoft since 1990 and prior to phones, he’d served as corporate vice-president of Microsoft's server and tools marketing and solutions group.

He moved over to mobiles when the entertainment and devices group was shaken up in May 2010 and its head, president Robbie Bach, went as part of restructuring. Entertainment and devices was home to Xbox and Windows Phone; now they are separate operations with their own presidents.

Microsoft watcher Mary-Jo Foley notes there are rumours of a project to switch out the Windows Phone kernel and use Windows 8 instead. As she correctly points out, what’s debatable is what exactly is meant when you say “Windows 8” because you couldn’t and wouldn’t want to fit a general purpose PC operating system core into a phone.

The rumours seem to focus on the next version of Windows Phone, codenamed Apollo. Although Nokia has said mid-2012 for Apollo, that date’s also been shot down. Windows 8, meanwhile, is due in 2012 with a beta in February.

Whatever Ballmer has in mind for Lees he’ll need to move quickly. So far, Windows Phone has not lifted Microsoft’s mobile market share. According to Gartner, Windows Phone dropped to 1.5 per cent market share in the third quarter – down from 2.7 a year ago.

Heavy marketing from Microsoft and Nokia to push the new Lumia devices should mean an improvement in the fourth quarter but, as Gartner noted, “a true turnaround won't take place until the second half of 2012”. ®

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