One amazingly wrong story about Windows Phone has picked up a lot of steam lately. I’m afraid with my Rhythm post, I may have contributed to the problem. (Oddly, the Ecosystems post has gone relatively unnoticed, what with the recent Lenovo leak). I am referring to the widespread misconception the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 will be a single OS, based on the current Windows 8. Not only is this utterly wrong, but the assumption some folks are making, based on my posts, that this will happen with Windows 9 is also wrong. Here’s why:
The suggestion that Windows Phone be based on Windows was floated once at Microsoft. That was back when “Photon” was still alive. Microsoft had studied deeply Apple’s choice of an OS X-based iOS instead of an iPod OS-based smartphone platform soon after the iPhone was launched. At the time, therefore, there was some debate as to whether NT should take over from CE on the phone. Note that there is a history of this same debate occuring previously for the Xbox. Microsoft initially went with CE for the Dreamcast, but it failed. So, when it came to the Xbox, NT was chosen. The Xbox still uses a customized NT, quite different from the Windows variant. Eventually, however, NT was found to be too heavy for phone hardware, which was pretty weak when the first iPhone came out. It was also very tightly linked to userland at the time and customization for the phone would be a clunky and lengthy process. CE was modular by design and made for lower-end devices and was thus the ultimate choice for “Photon”.
Microsoft soon (amazingly) realized it was headed nowhere with “Photon” and rebooted its mobile efforts. Even more amazingly, it chose the Zune as the basis of its new UX that is now taking over all the company’s products. At that time, MinWin work on the NT side was still ongoing and not ready for primetime on mobile hardware. Microsoft was already 3 years late, having created WinMo 6.5 and KIN in the interim. So, it chose CE 6 R3 to get WP7 finished without further delays.
The genius of the WP7 platform is that it sandboxes 3rd-party apps completely, and that the higher-level constructs for native apps have informed the design of WinRT and the Windows 8 dev platform as well. So, theoretically, it is possible to take Windows 8, alter it a bit, put it on a device like the Galaxy Note and call it Windows Phone 8. This will not happen due to two reasons.
The first is that Microsoft does not want to have phone apps and the phone UX run on slates or TVs unmodified and vice versa. The experience would suck. Instead, it wants the basic design constructs and dev environment to be similar between platforms, while the UX is tailored for each experience. This will ideally make developers happy, as apps will be easier to port due to design and code reuse. Consumers will also be happy, as they find the 3 screens running familiar experiences, that are insanely great on each separate screen. (I’ve been reading Steve Jobs’ biography).
The second is Nokia. The partnership has nearly changed everything again for Windows Phone. Microsoft is now targeting a much wider market and Nokia has unprecedented say in WP’s roadmap. They are pushing hard to make Windows Phone cheaper and more flexible. This is a barrier for entry for the NT kernel, which has already been pushed very hard to run on ARM for Windows 8. CE is already capable of going lower.
But what about Win9? There was a thought before the Nokia deal, that Win9 core might be a good target to bring NT down to Windows Phone. This will not happen now. Big chunks of the evolved WinRT platform will indeed be shared between Windows Phone and Windows around Win9 core. However, WP will use CE 7+ as its core at that time.
The Xbox is another story altogether. With a heady mix of rumors, tips and speculation, I am now stating that Xbox codename “loop” (the erstwhile XboxTV) will indeed debut a modified Win9 core. It will use a Zune HD-like hardware platform—a “main” processor with multiple dedicated assistive cores for graphics, AI, physics, sound, networking, encryption and sensors. It will be custom designed by Microsoft and two partners (update: AMD, Imagination Technologies & Samsung are three names I’ve heard so far) based on the ARM architecture. It will be cheaper than the 360, further enabling Kinect adoption. And it will be far smaller than the 360. It will also demonstrate how Windows Phone could possible implement Win9’s dev platform on the lower end.
It’ll be interesting to see if Microsoft can pull off all these great feats and succeed in the market over the next five years.