Posey's Tips & Tricks

It's Time for Microsoft Application Unification

While Redmond has gone to lengths to provide the same OS experiences on the PC, tablet and phone, universal applications over all devices would help to further the "One Microsoft" focus.

Even though I hardly ever watch television myself, it seems that almost every time that I walk through a room with a television on lately, I see a Microsoft commercial advertising one experience for everything in your life. In case you have not seen these commercials, the basic idea is that Windows PCs, phones, and tablets all run a similar interface and therefore provide a similar experience to one another. The tagline "One Experience for Everything in Your Life" goes right along with Microsoft's new corporate strategy of One Microsoft.

Personally, I really like the new strategy of one Microsoft. However, I think that one area where Microsoft needs to do a much better job is in the approach that it takes to apps.

Over the last few years, it almost seems like Microsoft has become obsessed with apps. Sure, there is a Windows App Store, but the app obsession goes much deeper. In addition to the Windows 8 App Store, there are separate app stores for Microsoft Office, Windows Phone and Xbox One, just to name a few.

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of being able to run apps through specific appliances or applications. It makes the product or service more useful than it would be on its own. To give you a more concrete example, I recently downloaded a package tracking app for Microsoft Outlook so that I could have package tracking information at my fingertips without having to manually track down e-mail messages containing tracking numbers. The package tracking app is a great tool that extends Outlook's usefulness.

The problem is that having a separate App Store for so many different products and services really doesn't make sense. If Microsoft really wants to provide one experience for everything in your life, as the commercials say, then they will need to adopt a strategy of app unification.

To show you what I mean, think about the way that the Windows App Store works. An app that is designed to run on Windows 8 will not work with Windows Phone or Windows RT. Similarly, a Windows Phone app cannot be run on Windows 8 or on Windows RT. The reason behind this is simply that each of the three devices has a separate architecture, and therefore requires apps to be compiled for that architecture. Even so, I still think that app unification is achievable.

In recent years, Microsoft has strived to make SkyDrive the single thread that binds together all of their different products and services (at least on the consumer side). For example, the files and documents that are stored in my own personal SkyDrive account are accessible through my desktop PC, my Windows RT tablet, my Windows Phone, and even my Xbox One. Being that SkyDrive work so well for document portability, I think that it could also be extended to provide app portability as well.

If you look through the various app stores, you will notice that many of the apps that are available exist on different platforms. For example, there is one particular travel app that is installed on my phone, my tablet and my laptop. The publisher has created three separate versions of the same app so that the app can be run on a variety of devices. Granted this isn't the case for all Windows apps, but there are plenty of apps that are available on multiple Windows platforms.

I think that the next piece of the puzzle is SharePoint. Not only can SharePoint run apps, but when properly configured, SharePoint can act as an app distribution point for enterprise environments. The reason why I mention this is because SharePoint is the engine behind Sky Drive Pro -- Microsoft's business-class version of SkyDrive.

My point is that Microsoft already has code in place that makes app distribution through a SkyDrive-like portal possible. It doesn't seem like such a stretch to think that it might be possible for Microsoft to build a database that keeps track of the various editions of each app that are available and to use SkyDrive as a mechanism for distributing apps across Windows devices, even if those devices are running different architectures.

Eventually of course, I think that Microsoft needs to settle on a single architecture for all devices. In the meantime though, using SkyDrive to deliver a more consistent app experience across devices would go a long way toward achieving Microsoft's vision of one experience for everything in your life.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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