How to Make Sense of Microsoft's Multiple Mobile Operating Systems

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However, there's no reason that a hardware maker couldn't create a "universal" version of WEC7 for multiple devices, Wurster says, as Apple has done with the iOS for its iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. An Asustek or Acer could use WEC7 as the basis for a family of touch devices that application developers could count on for application interoperability. In addition, HP has decided, through its acquisition of Palm's WebOS, to take the same route as Apple and produce a family of devices built on a common OS.

Thus, WEC7 is probably Microsoft's best hope for a Windows-derived slate that could compete with the iPad. But it would take remarkable discipline from the flavor-of-the-month OEM hardware makers to create an ecosystem that would support application developers sufficiently to create a meaningful alternative to the iPad, Android devices, or even WebOS devices. By not asserting control, Microsoft is likely relegating WEC7 to devices you never realize run Windows technology.

Windows Phone 7 for Smartphones

In March, Microsoft revealed it was jettisoning long-sinking Windows Mobile for a new OS called Windows Phone 7 that, despite its name, is not a version of Windows 7 but instead a new operating system that relies on Silverlight and the Xbox's XNA as its main UI technologies. As with WEC7, it uses "broad Windows technologies" but is not Windows.

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is asserting control over the whole platform, including hardware specs and physical user interface. That's meant to correct one problem with Windows Mobile: the fact that every device was different and often had a customized UI. Developers simply couldn't count on their apps working on more than one specific device, and businesses were frustrated that every device was different, which made training and support a nightmare.

Windows Phone 7, based on a glimpse of a prototype, has a radically different UI than Windows Mobile and indeed any smartphone operating system now available (Palm's WebOS is the closest). Microsoft says the device will be very heavily oriented to social networking but will also support corporate security and management needs as Windows Mobile did quite well.

From what little Microsoft has said, Windows Phone 7 will be a consistent platform that users, IT, and developers can count on no matter who makes a specific device. But there are so far no plans to extend Windows Phone 7 beyond the smartphone, Wurst notes; it's WEC7's and Windows 7's role to address other mobile needs.

Windows Phone (Kin) for 20-Somethings' Phones

Last month, Microsoft shipped two Windows Phones (no "7" in the name) under the Kin brand, designed for social networking use and aimed at 20-somethings. The OS is again not the same as any other Windows OS, so it leaves developers with yet another application development choice. Additionally, the OS is not extensible to other devices, so it can't be a platform for slates.

But it doesn't really matter that the Kin OS is different and nonextensible. Although there are some interesting concepts in the UI, the Kin devices and their operating system have been uniformly panned as awkward to use, with inconsistent interfaces and limited capabilities. For example, there's no security or manageability, so Kins can have no place in many businesses. I doubt Kin will survive the year, especially given the forthcoming Windows Phone 7's social networking orientation. It certainly has no reason to exist.

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