In a year in which Microsoft is transitioning from the lackluster Windows Mobile to the more promising Windows Phone 7, one might expect some form of cohesive mobile strategy from the software giant. Unfortunately, that's not what's happening. Microsoft has a slew of overlapping mobile products shipping this year, and it seems like a new mobile platform is introduced almost every week. What the heck is going on?
The impetus for this question was the announcement late last week that Microsoft would soon deliver something called Windows Embedded Handheld, yet another mobile software platform and brand built on the same underpinnings as the obsolete Windows Mobile 6.5 and aimed at the nebulous market for "enterprise handheld devices." And there will be a second version of this down the road based on the Embedded 7 series mobile core.
Even Microsoft seems to have a hard time explaining its ever-expanding family of mobile products. "Historically, Microsoft has offered two software platforms to help original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) deliver the next generation of enterprise handheld devices," the software giant explains in a marketing document, "Windows Embedded CE (the Windows Embedded Compact 7 community technology preview was announced June 1 and is available for download) and Windows Mobile."
Windows Embedded Handheld, then, is a third software platform aimed specifically at the enterprise market. But that's just the enterprise market: Microsoft is also building Windows Phone 7, for both consumers and business users, and has the Windows Phone-based KIN products in market now, for consumers. It will continue selling the business-oriented Windows Mobile 6.5 for the foreseeable future as well.
And then there's the Windows Embedded line, which is based on the Windows CE codebase. There's a Windows Embedded Standard 7 product that is available now and aimed at set-top boxes, kiosks, TVs, and so on. And coming later this year is the more stripped down Windows Embedded Compact 7, which Microsoft is targeting at a coming generation of low-end (i.e., iPad-like) tablet devices.
Speaking of which, let's not forget Windows 7, which ships in four mainstream product editions. Microsoft still intends for PC and device makers to use this system in full-featured tablets and slates, netbooks, notebooks, and other portable computer types.
Adding this all up, Microsoft has several mobile OS products in various stages of production, including Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Phone 7, KIN, Windows Embedded Handheld, Windows Embedded Handheld 7, Windows Embedded Standard 7, and Windows Embedded Compact 7. As ZD blogger Mary Jo Foley noted recently, this fact is somewhat amusing in the wake of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's criticism of Google for having two different mobile OSes (Chrome OS and Android.)
If only Microsoft's mobile strategy was that simple.