by Shane O'Neill

Windows 8 is Enough? Microsoft OS Family Gets Confusing

Jun 30, 2010
Operating Systems Small and Medium Business Windows

Microsoft suddenly has more Windows than a skyscraper. Is Windows 8 just the newest member of a sprawling OS family that's growing too big too fast?

With leaked slides igniting rumblings about Windows 8 this week, it dawned on me how much the Windows operating system family is expanding. Microsoft’s goal is clear: cover an increasingly diverse hardware landscape.

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The alleged Windows 8 slides indicate that, with its next client operating system, Microsoft will push for near-instant startup times, integrated facial recognition technologies, support for USB 3.0 and Bluetooth 3.0, compatibility across different devices through the cloud, and simpler streaming of movies and TV shows to any screen.

Trouble is, the growing Windows family is starting to get a little confusing and dysfunctional, if you ask me.

Microsoft has never streamlined its product lines very well. Yes, it has a vast portfolio, but it always seems to create customer confusion with too many versions, complex pricing schemes and long and winding product names.

Windows Phone 7 Series (the “Series” was later dropped), Windows Embedded Compact 7, Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) jump to mind as Microsoft products with names that will never win any awards for brevity. Hell, even the acronyms are confusing.

I suppose we’ve gotten used to Microsoft’s byzantine branding and version confusion, but now even the Windows operating system, which is usually fairly easy to understand, is proliferating in perplexing ways. Suddenly, we’ve been hit with a new crop of Windows operating systems for different devices — not versions of operating systems mind you, but different operating systems.

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There’s no question that today’s hardware landscape is complex with its desktops, laptops, netbooks, “slates” (aka tablet PCs), smartphones, e-readers and ruggedized mobile devices. Fear not, Microsoft is here to make sure its Windows operating systems are just as complex. OK, more complex.

Here’s a rundown on the burgeoning Windows family. I hope this leaves you less dazed and confused about the various members and where they live.

Windows 8: It’s early to be making judgements about the follow up to Windows 7, but leaked slides charting Microsoft’s strategy with its next client OS reveal an emphasis on instant startup times, facial recognition technologies and seamless compatibility across laptops, tablets, TVs and smartphones.

Windows 7: The successor to the embattled Windows Vista, Windows 7 rolled out last October with a fresh interface and networking and security features that have largely won over the trust of consumers and businesses. Windows 7 currently runs on desktops, laptops, netbooks and tablet PCs.

Windows Mobile 6.5.x: This is the last in the line of the traditional Windows Mobile OS family before Windows Phone 7 takes over in phones this fall. WM 6.5 was a minor upgrade to Windows Mobile 6.1 in Oct. 2009 that included a revamped GUI. Anyone with a Windows Mobile phone is running some version of Windows Mobile 6.

Windows Phone 7: A major rebranding of the Microsoft phone operating system. Quite simply, the weight of Microsoft’s mobile world is on Windows Phone 7, as Microsoft has fallen dangerously behind in the mobile race compared to Apple and RIM, with Android phones now also gaining steam. Windows Mobile 6.x phones will not be upgradeable to Windows Phone 7 because of hardware requirements. The OS is scheduled to ship for the 2010 holiday season.

Windows Embedded Handheld: This is the newest member of Microsoft’s mobile OS family and is built on Windows Mobile 6.5 technology (which was built on the Windows CE kernel, now known as Windows Embedded Compact. Confused yet?). This OS will be used on what Microsoft is calling “enterprise handheld mobile devices”: durable smartphones and PDAs used by service technicians, field workers and healthcare reps who need custom line-of-business apps such as bar-code scanning and RFID reading. Windows Embedded Handheld will ship by the end of the year and then, in the second half of 2011, a new version based on the Windows Phone 7 kernel, aka Windows Embedded Compact 7, will be released.

Windows Embedded Standard 7: This is Microsoft’s operating system for OEMs that want to include Windows 7 features like Aero, Windows Touch, Silverlight 2 and BitLocker in kiosks, point-of-sale terminals, televisions and set top boxes. It is shipping now.

Windows Embedded Compact 7: This is the next generation of Microsoft’s Windows Embedded CE, the platform on which Microsoft builds its phone and mobile operating systems. The upcoming Windows Phone 7 is based on Windows Embedded Compact 7 core. On its own, Windows Embedded Compact 7 will be pitched to device makers whose products don’t need or are not powerful enough for the full version of Windows 7, such as slates, portable media players and e-readers. OEMs can select from a menu of Windows Embedded Compact 7 features to get just what they need for their devices. The OS runs on either x86 or ARM-based chips and is scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter of this year.

Shane O’Neill is a senior writer at Follow him on Twitter at Follow everything from on Twitter at