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The Failures of Microsoft

February 22, 2011 1 comment

I kicked off this blog with a post explaining my view of what Windows Phone 7 could achieve with the backing of Nokia. A lot of people disagreed, if not with me directly then at least my viewpoint on the need for apps. The main complaint appeared to be that Nokia would be dropping their MeeGo platform, together with all the developers involved in it, and hooking up with a company with a history of failures. I’m writing this now after a week of reflection, as the impact of the decision becomes clearer.

Yes, Microsoft has had its failures. The first editions of Gates’ “The Road Ahead” was rewritten mere weeks after initial publication, as he was forced to rethink his vision for the impact that the Internet could have on his company. Microsoft Bob infamously tried to reinvent the desktop, whilst more recently Kin would have found its way into anyone’s top 10 list of “ways to waste $1 billion”.

Even successes have been repainted as failures. There is very little wrong with Windows Vista aside from the marketing: people just didn’t realise the impact that the move from Windows XP would have on their preexisting hardware and software. Windows 7 was more successful, not because it was  a better product, but because vendors had had two more years to develop new hardware, new drivers, new software that could handle the security model. The marketing was merely the gloss on top.

Other mistakes were less about the software, and more about their business methods. Microsoft got ‘the Internet’ late, and were caught out by the rise of Netscape. They used immoral and illegal tactics, funded by more profitable areas of the business, in order to stamp out competition. They even tried to reuse elements of Microsoft Bob into other applications, and thus foisted Clippy onto the world.

But look at Microsoft now. Their web browser competes, not by bullying but on how well it can adhere to third-party standards. Their development tools are generally viewed, at least by people I’ve spoken to, as second to none. They took the brave step of ditching hundreds of icons in Office 2007 for a handful of ribbons. Windows 7 has proven to be a massive success. The XBox 360 is as popular as its rivals, in a market that Microsoft had no history in, and they are even releasing an SDK for the incredible Kinect system almost certainly earlier than planned after developers managed to write their own drivers within days. So don’t write them out of the mobile market yet.

Nor should Nokia be written off. I was pleased to discover that I’d come to the same conclusion, from a different starting point, as Robert Scoble [admittedly a former Microsoft employee] regarding the need for a platform to have apps and the push developers needed to start creating them. MeeGo would have launched with no applications, and with only a small number of developers with the ability to develop for it.

Windows Phone 7 may be behind both Android and iOS by a significant margin at the moment, but Microsoft has the marketing, the developers, the opportunity, the ability and now the hardware to catch up.