How to Make Sense of Microsoft's Multiple Mobile Operating Systems
Four Slate Options, Two Iffy Choices
When all is said and done, of the four Windows-derived mobile operating systems, only two might make sense for slates and iPad-wannabe devices: Windows 7 and Windows Embedded Compact 7. Windows Phone 7 applies solely to smartphones, as does Windows Phone (Kin), so they ultimately matter just for smartphone-only applications.
Out of the box, Windows 7 is simply unusable on a slate. Device makers would have to hide most of the operating system, create a good touch UI overlay, and somehow allow only touch-enhanced applications onto it. HP tried that to some extent with its touchscreen PCs and its encouragement of touch app development, but it's gotten little traction beyond kiosk-type uses.
HP has sinced moved onto WebOS, and I can't see OEMs such as Dell, Asus, and Acer that do little original development taking on the challenge of defining and growing an ecosystem -- especially knowing Microsoft could throw a monkey wrench at any time by updating Windows 7 in incompatible or competitive ways. It says a lot to me that these companies are playing with Google's Android operating system, as is the only other OEM to have serious OS-level software effort (HTC, with its Sense UI).
That leaves WEC7. It has the same ecosystem problem as Windows 7, but in WEC7's case, that's fundamental to its purpose for use in custom devices. The same reasons that make a touch-friendly Windows 7 ecosystem unlikely also apply to WEC7 with one slight difference: Because WEC7 is meant to be customized, there's less risk that Microsoft will create compatibility or competitive problems for a WEC7-based mobile ecosystem.
Thus, an HTC, Asustek, Acer, or Dell could theoretically develop a multidevice version of WEC7 that serves as the basis for a Windows-based slate ecosystem. It's even possible that a consortium of companies could do that; an example is the Wi-Fi Alliance, which created a compatibility standard for the IEEE 802.11 protocol. Before that, there was no guarantee the devices would interoperate; today, you can't find non-Wi-Fi 802.11 devices.
I don't think chances are great this will occur, but it is possible. What Microsoft should do, of course, is either extend Windows Phone 7 to multiple devices as Apple did with the iOS or create a "platform" version of WEC7 for devcies such as slates, while keeping the existing customizable WEC7 for those embedded devices such as set-top boxes -- Microsoft could have its cake and eat it too.
This article, "Making sense of Microsoft's mobile OS four-way," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile computing at InfoWorld.com.