“Windows Core OS”: Fourth time’s a charm, or four times too many?

About a month ago, I wrote an article about the current state of smartphone operating systems, stating that iOS and Android are practically the only two choices left anymore. Windows 10 Mobile, while still in existence, is barely hanging by a thread. Only two low-end Windows 10 Mobile devices were introduced during IFA last month, and although it was stated then that Microsoft “had a plan” for the future of their mobile platform, I personally took that statement with a grain of salt as it doesn’t appear that Microsoft takes its mobile division seriously these days.

However, the rumor mill, in its ever-churning state, now suggests that Microsoft may indeed be working on yet another revamped version of their mobile platform. Citing “several sources”, Zac Bowden of Windows Central sheds both light and hope on the future of the platform with the alleged renovations, referred to now as “Windows Core OS” (previously, it was called “Andromeda OS”).

The article details how Windows Core OS is expected to be a “monumental step” towards unifying the Windows 10 platform, giving it the ability to be “installed on a wider variety of devices without being based on specific, pre-existing product variants.” Basically, it sounds as if this one operating system would be able to adapt to its environment, whether it’s on a phone, tablet, or computer.

Now, here’s where I was mistaken: I thought Windows 10 Mobile was already a universal platform that worked seamlessly between computer, tablet, phone, and even Xbox. Apparently, this is only true for two aspects of the platform: OneCore and Universal Windows Platform, but there’s still a lot of variation between different versions. Essentially, it’s loosely unified, but still pretty fragmented.

Ultimately, my mistake was that I expected too much too quickly. Unifying Windows 10 seems to have been the idea all along, but it wasn’t all there from the get-go. Windows Core OS appears to be the next step in making a true universal Windows platform a reality; it’s the “missing link”. Whether it’s true – and more importantly, whether that makes the platform anymore successful – is yet to be seen, but is reported to officially surface sometime in 2018 with smartphones as the first primary focus.

As much as I want there to be a third viable mobile platform on the market, I have my doubts about Microsoft’s place in it. Windows Core OS would make it the fourth rebranding and major overhaul of a Windows-centric mobile platform, and that’s only if you water Microsoft’s efforts down to Windows Mobile > Windows Phone > Windows 10 Mobile > Windows Core OS. And even if Windows Core OS offers the most seamless experience between devices, it’s still going to struggle without apps, and apps won’t be developed until there’s something worth developing for, so even at launch one shouldn’t realistically expect it to take off in leaps and bounds. 

I think what needs to happen with Microsoft is best said by Satya Nadella, the company’s CEO, himself. In his new book, Hit Refresh, Nadella recalls how the company was “desperate to catch up after missing the rise of mobile technology” in 2013, when the Nokia deal was underway, then under former CEO Steve Ballmer. Nadella, then a member of the Senior Leadership Team, voted “no” on the Nokia deal. “I did not get why the world needed the third ecosystem in phones unless we changed the rules … But it was too late to regain the ground we had lost. We were chasing our competitors’ taillights.”

I think that quote rings true, particularly the “unless we changes the rules” bit. At this point, you can’t just barge in with another platform that operates similarly to Android or iOS and hope people will switch. It has to have something unique that people feel like they can’t get from the other two. For what it’s worth, a truly seamless experience between gadgets – especially if it’s Windows, which still dominates the PC industry – might be the solution, but it really depends on how well it’s executed and if the app store manages to flourish this time around.

I have all but completely given up hope for Microsoft in the mobile sector, but I strongly believe that having a third viable platform would be beneficial, both for consumers and pushing the industry forward. As skeptical as I am that Microsoft could still make it in mobile, as the saying goes: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” No favors would be done by cheering for a platform’s demise. With that being said, I really do hope that Microsoft finds their footing in this extremely competitive and vital space.

Readers, what are your thoughts on this potential development? Are you still rooting for a turnaround for Microsoft’s mobile endeavor, or have you completely given up hope at this point?

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