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Compatibility Between Phones, PCs, Tablets: Software Makers' Plan

By William Peacock, Esq. on December 04, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Microsoft's long-standing strategy, and recent ad campaigns, tout "one experience for everything" -- Windows Phone, Windows RT for Tablets, and Windows 8.1 for desktops, but despite their similar appearance, all three are distinct systems with their own apps. Your long-beloved Outlook and Office are half-functional on mobile devices.

It's been this way forever. When MS had Windows CE on smartphones, there was the familiar "Start" button and Windows interface, but the apps differed. Today, there is a tile-base interface, and once again, incompatible apps. Different decade, same debacle, in part because of the underlying hardware.

In a few years' time, however, that could change, perhaps because of the chips (which we discussed earlier) and if not, there's always a software-based backup plan.

Microsoft's Roadmap

Leaks out of Microsoft this week show that the Redmond-based company is planning a wave of Spring 2015 updates, codenamed "Threshold," which will make the experience across the many flavors of Windows OS more consistent (including, hopefully, a unified app store), reports ZDnet.

Currently, there are separate versions of Windows for the desktop (8.1), phone (Phone OS 8), Xbox One, tablet (RT), and of course, all of the legacy Windows 7 and earlier users (like me). Microsoft's hope is that users can pick up any of these devices and have the same experience, from the tile-based Windows, to the work stalwart Office.

Their best bet for that, of course, is x86 chips across all of the different platforms, which would mean one version of Windows (and one version of each app), instead of four or more. The chips, however, aren't there yet. Until then, they'll have to make do with a single app store, which will hopefully provide mobile and desktop versions of each app, in a single purchase.

Ubuntu "Unity"

We've mentioned this before, but Ubuntu is hoping to have a single Linux-based interface that works on your tablet, phone, and desktop -- the same plan, essentially, as Microsoft.

Currently, the company has ARM-compatible versions of its OS available for flashing on Google's Nexus phones and tablets, as well as a desktop version, but all three have the same graphical interface (the code underneath, and the app compatibility, is the only difference).

The company even had plans for a phone that you could convert into a desktop, just by plugging in a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Again, x86 would make that much more feasible.

But Ubuntu isn't waiting for cross-compatible chips. They've released a toolkit that will (hopefully) allow developers to release one app that works across all platforms, regardless of underlying ARM/x86 denomination.

Apple and Google

Neither Apple (OS X and iOS) nor Google (Android and Chrome OS) have made public plans to unify their desktop and mobile operating systems, and so far, Apple has even publicly eschewed plans for touchscreens on their laptops and desktops -- a necessary feature for such a convergence.

Why This Matters to You

It's simple: convenience and productivity. We love our tablets, but can you really get work done on them? And how easy is it to convince old-timers to drop their Windows laptop and Outlook email in favor of an iPad?

A convergent OS means whether you're handling a tablet, phone, or desktop, the same software is available. There's no learning curve, and more importantly, no misformatted briefs because your mobile Office App reformatted your Microsoft Office document.

Plus, the grumpy luddite partner can pick up a tablet, and use it, without verbally abusing the IT staff.

Do you dream of a convergent future -- one OS (and set of apps) to rule them all? Tweet us your opinion @FindLawLP.

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