Home Welcome Back, Windows Mobile

Welcome Back, Windows Mobile

It took hundreds of years, but thanks to Microsoft, we finally have an answer to William Shakespeare’s immortal question: “What’s in a name?” 

Apparently, the identity of the company’s mobile platform. Microsoft announced Wednesday that it’s effectively resurrecting the predecessor to the ungainly Windows Phone label it slapped on its mobile software five years ago. Mobile versions of its Windows operating system will be known again as Windows Mobile—specifically, Windows 10 Mobile—helping cement Microsoft’s unofficial title as the boss of bewildered branding.

See also: Windows Wants Apps! Specifically, Android And iOS Apps

Historically, Microsoft has pivoted more often than a prima ballerina—with a string of platform name changes, a Nokia acquisition it wound up gutting for parts, and a dizzying profusion of variations on the same software. (Quick, remind us of the difference between Windows 8 and Windows RT. In fact, remind us what “RT” stood for in the first place.) 

Here, though, it looks like Microsoft is putting its best foot forward with Windows 10, itself an attempt to unify software for PCs, tablets and phones. Now when it launches this summer, Windows 10 will have a fancy new/old name riding shotgun on mobile.

What’s In a Name?

Let’s take a walk down the windy path of Microsoft’s mobile efforts. Two decades ago, the company’s Windows desktop software spun off a mobile version called Windows CE, an operating system designed for non-PCs—in particular, palmtop devices that were effectively tiny, and profoundly underpowered, laptops.

Windows CE begat Windows Mobile, an OS for personal digital assistants and advanced productivity phones. When Microsoft became collateral damage in Apple and Google’s smartphone wars, then-CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled another name change to Windows Phone in 2010. (Windows Phone also came with a wholesale redesign, including a new tile oriented interface.

See also: Holograms! Also, What Else Microsoft Announced At Its Windows 10 Event

That was Microsoft’s signal that it was ready to do battle with Apple and Google. Too bad it could never quite get off the bronze-medal spot on the podium. Slow updates and a paucity of apps stymied the platform.

With Windows 10, current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has a new (and rather promising) version up his sleeve, along with more developer interest than Windows has seen in years. So maybe it’s no surprise that, in his apparent bid to cleanse the past, he’s erasing Ballmer’s stamp from Microsoft’s mobile efforts.

The name “Windows Mobile,” after all, does hark back to the days when the company made the world’s leading smartphone OS, back before the iPhone arrived in 2007. (Of course, that didn’t mean much even then.) It also now perfectly fits into Microsoft’s naming convention across Windows 10 products—with Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Enterprise and others.

Windows On The World

Windows 10 will offer features like Continuum, which reconfigures itself from a keyboard-and-mouse-focused desktop to touch-friendly tiles for tablets and phones, and universal apps that work across various gadgets—and not just for phones and computers. In a way, Microsoft’s emphasis on consistency now may be its “mea culpa” of sorts, to make up for the lack of it in recent years.

“We designed Windows 10 to deliver a more personal computing experience across a range of devices. An experience optimized for each device type, but familiar to all,” wrote Tony Prophet, Microsoft’s Windows marketing chief. “Windows 10 will power an incredibly broad range of devices—everything from PCs, tablets, phones, Xbox One, Microsoft HoloLens and Surface Hub.”

The mere mention of HoloLens—a holographic technology that, perhaps, represents the company’s most intriguing effort in years—sprinkles some fairy dust on the matter. It certain can’t rely on the waning popularity of its game console to do that. Altogether, it plays into Microsoft’s hope to spread Windows 10 everywhere—not just across its products, but even ATMs, cars, appliances and other connected gizmos. It may need to, if it hopes to reach its goal of a billion Windows 10 devices by 2018.

Not that everything’s straightforward. This is Microsoft, after all, and even as it pushes a universal approach, it just can’t resist a little homegrown fragmentation. Toward that end, it has come up with no less than six different variations of Windows 10:

  • Windows 10 Mobile, for smaller, mobile, touch-centric devices like smartphones and small tablets.
  • Windows 10 Home, the consumer-focused desktop edition.
  • Windows 10 Pro, desktop edition for PCs, larger tablets and two-in-one devices.
  • Windows 10 Enterprise, essentially Windows 10 Pro with additional security features for medium and large organizations.
  • Windows 10 Education, an adaptation of Windows 10 Enterprise, but for schools.
  • Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise, for business smartphone and compact tablet customers.

Looks like old habits die hard. 

Lead photo courtesy of Nokia UK; Windows CE palmtop photo by Noah (ax0n); Lumia smartphone photo by Nicola; glass-block Windows by Urs Steiner

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