When you think about the eventual unification of the Windows RT and Windows Phone platforms, a number of thoughts probably go through your mind. But such a grand vision requires smaller, more pragmatic steps, especially in the early stages. The first such step was the unification of the Store infrastructure for both platforms. And the second step was announced this week, with Microsoft now unifying the developer programs for Windows Store and Windows Phone.

I wrote about Microsoft's plans to unify Windows RT and Windows Phone back in September in Microsoft Strategy Update: Windows RT and Windows Phone. And around the time that Microsoft unified the teams responsible for Windows Store and Windows Phone Store, I noted that the firm also dramatically raised the limit on Windows 8.x/RT app installs, paving the way for a future in which the two platforms were merged.

This week, Microsoft announced the next logical step: It is merging, or unifying, its currently separate Windows Store (Windows 8.x and RT) and Windows Phone developer programs.

"I'm pleased to announce a unified registration experience for both Windows Store and Windows Phone developers, available at a lower cost," Todd Brix wrote in a post to the Windows App Builder Blog. "As a result of these changes, Windows Store developers are now also Windows Phone developers, and Windows Phone developers are also Windows Store developers."

Here's what's changing.

Cost. In keeping with a previous change to the Windows Phone Developer program, an individual developer account is now just $19 per year, while companies will pay $99 per year.

Existing developers get one more year for free. Developers who have already registered with both the Windows Store and Windows Phone developers programs will receive a code entitling them to another free year of the new unified developer program.

Windows Store developers are now Windows Phone developers. Registered Windows Store developers can now submit apps to the Windows Phone Store at no additional cost, using the same Microsoft account.

Windows Phone developers are now Windows Store developers. Registered Windows Phone developers can now submit apps to the Windows Store at no additional cost, using the same Microsoft account.

Developer dashboards. For now, the developer dashboards for Windows Store and Windows Phone developers will remain separate.

Students. No changes here: Students continue to be supported through the DreamSpark program.

Finally, Microsoft and Nokia are also offering prizes to those individuals who create the same app for both Windows Store and Windows Phone. Check out Publish a new app for Windows Phone or port an existing Windows Store app and Bring your Windows Phone app to Windows 8.1 for the details.

For users of these platforms, here's something to chew on.

When Microsoft releases Halo: Spartan Assault for both Windows Store (Windows 8 and RT) and Windows Phone, many users of both platforms noted, with much deserved complaining, that these apps were essentially "separate" in that they required separate $6.99 purchases on each platform even though the games are basically identical. (I noted this fact in my review.) When a user buys a game (or app) on iOS or Android, this doesn't happen: As long as the game supports multiple form factors, you can play it on whatever devices you own.

This step of unifying the developer programs is one step towards erasing the problem highlighted by Halo: Spartan Assault. That is, over time, "Windows" will grow from an API/SDK/tools standpoint to encompass the currently-separate Windows Store and Windows Phone platforms. And developers will be able to create, publish and sell a single app (albeit with multiple executables, as is the case today with Windows Store apps) that run across Windows versions on PCs, tablets and phones.

The limitation today isn't just semantics. Windows Store and Windows Phone really are different platforms. And while Microsoft perhaps could have and should have done something to help Halo fans buy that game just once, the steps it's taking now will help everyone broadly, going forward. It's a positive change.