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Nadella Strikes Balance Between Universal Windows and a Multiplatform World

Microsoft opened its Build conference for developers with a keynote that focused on the company's attempts at breathing new life to its struggling Windows franchise while simultaneously embracing interoperability with other platforms.

In addition to unveiling its intelligent voice assistant planned for Windows Phone 8.1 and announcing the Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft's top executives talked of progress towards unifying its operating system across PCs, tablets, phones and its Xbox gaming platform. The company has lately described this and efforts to extend to open source and competitive platforms as a "universal Windows."

Underscoring the progress Microsoft has made toward that effort, Microsoft's new CEO Satya Nadella said that 90 percent of its APIs are now common and this should remove some of the barriers to developing for the various system types. "That's fantastic to see," Nadella told the 5,000-plus attendees at the event, held in San Francisco. He said Microsoft will continue to push for a "shared library across a variety of device targets."

Those device targets won't be limited to traditional hardware. Terry Myerson, executive vice president for Microsoft's operating system group, described the company's ambitions for its current-generation operating system, which only accounts for being on a small share of tablets and is still not favored among most PC users.

Those ambitions include not only making Windows tools and frameworks more broadly available but extending them to new types of devices -- including on the so-called "Internet of things," which can range on anything from a piano, as demonstrated, to telemetry components equipped with Intel's x86 system-on-chip called Quark. The component is the size of an eraser, Myerson noted. Such advances will open new opportunities for Windows, he said.

Also in a bid to grow its market share in the low-cost tablet and phone market, Myerson emphasized the company's efforts to expand the presence of Windows by making it free to tablet, PC and phone suppliers offering hardware that's nine inches or less. That promises to take away the key advantage of the Android OS being free.

"We really want to get this platform out there," Myerson said of Windows. "We want to remove all the friction between you and creating these devices."

While Nadella and company are taking steps to expand Windows, they also acknowledged to its core audience that it's not going to be a Windows-everywhere world, as evidenced by the company's long-awaited release of Office for the iPad last week.

One of the biggest barriers to the growth of the modern Windows platform is developers who don't want to be tied to a specific platform. In a move aimed at making their efforts more universal, Corporate Vice President David Treadwell said the company's Windows Library for JavaScript (WinJS) will be cross platform and will be made available to the open source community under the Apache 2 license. It's now available on GitHub.

In a pre-recorded question displayed during the closing of today's presentation, an Android developer asked why he should also develop for Windows. Nadella's answer: "We are the only platform that has APIs with Language bindings across both native, managed and Web. And the fact that that flexibility exists means you can build your core libraries in the language of your choice and those core libraries you can take cross platform. Obviously the Web [is] the one that's easiest to conceptualize and that's what we've done by taking WinJS and putting it into open source and making it a community effort so you can take it cross platform."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/02/2014 at 3:39 PM


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