Windows 8: The First Unified Operating System

With the imminent Windows 8 releasing this Friday many people are questioning the impact that Windows 8 will have on the smartphone and tablet market. The question really is not whether Microsoft can make an impact on the smartphone market. It’s really a question of which company will first created a unified computing platform that is overwhelmingly accepted by the public.

What do I mean by unified? Let’s say in 3 to 5 years your smartphone is your ONLY computer. Never going to happen, you say? Let me pull out my crystal ball and predict how we might be using computing devices in the near future.

After fighting your way home by using augmented reality, when you reach your home or office you pull off your smartglasses and drop the smart-device-once-known-as-a-smartphone onto a docking station that wirelessly charges your batteries. This docking station provides wireless power via an electromagnetic field, WiFi 802.11ac broadband internet, Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and Intel Wireless Display outputs high definition video to your large monitor (whether it be on your desk, built into the wall, or floating holograph style). The smart device’s Operating System automagically adjusts the Graphical User Interface to match the different input/output devices. In addition, due to the broadband internet connection, any software that is beyond the processing capabilities of the smartphone’s hardware can be provided through a cloud platform. When you’re done at the desk and ready to work in another room you pull out your LapDock or a tablet interface. But if you’re really in a hurry you can just use your SmartGlasses which also have the ability to project a transparent keyboard onto any surface.

But what about the gamers…who’d give up HD resolution graphics with all the settings maxed? That’s where a cloud service like Gaikai would come in. It was Java based and it streamed HD video and audio games. If your internet connection is good enough, like mine, you can’t tell that you are not playing the games locally. With Gaikai your PC could be ancient and you played the latest games at their max. For a smart device like we’re envisioning the only necessity might be a HD video decoding co-processor built into a docking station so that video rendering is smooth. Otherwise, the only other thing I’d want is a bluetooth Xbox 360 controller.

Sounds too SciFi? Most of that technology I just mentioned is already available or at least in the testing phase. The real question is when it will become widely available. I expect the transition to be complete by 2015/2016. Both Apple and Google are racing against Microsoft to reach this goal of a unified platform. But who will be the winner?

Google currently has the lead when it comes to being used on all platform types. Android 2.x was smartphone based and Android 3.x was tablet based. Android 4.x merged the two together. Keyboard and mouse support is already added, in addition to high definition video output (Lenovo announced near the beginning of the year the first smartphone, the K800, to use Intel Wireless Display). Chromebooks already provide much desktop functionality so I expect that Google will introduce desktop type functionality in the next Android releases while still keep compatibility with existing Apps in the Market.

Apple is right behind with the iOS. The iPhone and iPad use pretty much the same OS. Their difficulty is merging the Mac OS X with the iOS. But the Mac OS X has almost as many apps as Windows 8, which gives them an edge over Google once the operating systems are unified. CNET has an article describing the predicted actions of Apple.

Now Microsoft may be way behind on smartphone market penetration but obviously they’re dominant on the desktop. The question is whether they can leverage this to take over the smartphone/tablet market as well. The other possibility is that Google or Apple will leverage their leads in the mobile market to take over the desktop environment.

Microsoft will be the first to launch a fully unified OS with Windows 8. All Windows 8 Native Apps will be based upon HTML5 plus Javascript. This is perfect for being cross-platform, so eventually all Windows 8 Apps will function on desktop, tablet, and smartphone. The question is whether they will be optimized for switching between platforms.

Microsoft’s biggest issue is that they may scare off their desktop users. The new Metro interface is a huge departure from what people are used to. It’s been reported that Windows 8 does nothing but confuse first time users. But it’s also designed for touchscreens as the primary input device. I believe that Microsoft needs hardware manufacturers to quickly produce a hardware platform that functions like I described earlier in order for the advantages of a unified platform to be noticeable/useful.

Personally, I felt that Microsoft made a mistake with their decision to do away completely with the Windows 7 Aero desktop interface. As a unified operating system Windows 8 should have switched modes depending on what input/output devices are connected. For example, if I have a smartphone it would switch to a Windows 7-like desktop if I plugged it into a monitor with HDMI and connected a bluetooth mouse and keyboard. It’s kind of like how you can switch between the mobile and desktop versions of a website.

Microsoft’s biggest strength with Windows 8 is that it will provide backwards compatibility for all old Windows applications. If the smartphone version could do the same when plugged into a desktop dock I could easily see many people making the switch to Windows 8. So it logically follows that whichever hardware manufacturer provides a hardware platform to match the unified software platform then they would have an advantage.

While Windows 8 is earliest out the gate it still has some shackles holding it back from full acceptance. Who do you think will win the race to becoming the favorite unified operating system; Microsoft, Google, or Apple?