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Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 for free?

Microsoft operating-system shakeup rumors promise a streamlined development structure

Rumors about the future of Microsoft’s operating systems – Windows, Windows RT, Windows Phone and the XBox OS – indicate possible moves toward consolidation and perhaps even making some of them available for free.

The latest as reported by The Verge says is considering making Windows RT and Windows Phone free.

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It’s not as wacky as it sounds. Microsoft’s own Surface 2 is the only tablet available based on its Surface RT operating system, and Windows Phones are made by a handful of vendors, but Nokia makes the bulk of sales. Since Microsoft is buying Nokia, that means whatever revenue it was taking in from licensing the operating system to Nokia goes away.

In short, Microsoft will be making little from licensing Windows RT and Windows Phone, so why not give it away? More hardware manufacturers might embrace the OSes, thereby promoting them and perhaps increasing their penetration.

Add to this some indications that Microsoft is headed toward merging Windows Phone and Windows RT, starting with merging the Windows Store and  Windows Phone Store and merging the developer licenses for both platforms. Buying a license to develop for Windows RT gives permission to develop for Windows Phone and vice versa. Microsoft is running a challenge for developers to create apps and games that run on Windows 8 (and 8.1 and RT) and Windows Phone 8. It has also posted tips on how to maximize reuse of code between Windows Phone and Windows 8 apps.

The upside for businesses is that if they decide to support phones and tablets and lap/desktops and they can choose ones with a common developer platform, they will be able to readily port their custom apps to all types of devices saving time and money and boosting productivity.

In theory.

According to Mary Jo Foley’s blog this won’t happen anytime soon. The intent is for all Windows platforms to support the same set of high-value activities, which might include games but also business apps. But the timetable for the closer association of Microsoft operating systems is sometime in 2015. It’s a daunting task and not surprising that it would take a while.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter@Tim_Greene.

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