Windows Invisible

Today an interview with tech gadfly and Rackspace Startup Liaison Officer Robert Scoble brought up a continued argument around the future of Microsoft and Windows. In an interview with GeekWire, the former technology evangelist at Microsoft was asked about Seattle and Windows Phone. His responses were let’s just say provocative. 

On Windows Phone:

“That train has sailed,” “The real answer is, give up Windows Phone, go Android, and embrace and extend like you did with the Internet. But they don’t listen to me.” “The problem is that Microsoft has 4 percent market share for mobile. The reason for that is that they have no apps, and there’s no love for developers of apps.

On Microsoft:

The problem with Microsoft is that it’s so committee-driven and slow. It’s not a startup anymore. It’s a big-ass company with a lot of people. And let’s be honest — you work at a big company because it’s comfortable. You don’t have to work 80 hours per week and you get paid, have nice benefits, and the family is all happy. It’s collected a lot of those kinds of people and they are all in committees. Committees don’t do anything.


You can read more of his sound bites on GeekWire (warning if you work in Seattle or for Microsoft you might need to restrained). The interview is interesting because it highlights the issue of what exactly is the nature of Microsoft. Is it the next IBM, an enterprise technology company that should focus on software and services. Or is it a company that has a place in the mass consumer computing space. Windows Phone successes and failures seem to be representative of this issue, as is the success of Azure and Office 365.

There is an argument to be made that Microsoft would be better served abandoning the consumer market and mobile as a platform maker. The company’s market share has been slow despite having years in the market. Windows phones and tablets have also had issue in gaining traction with the new set of app developers created with the emergence of the iPhone. In mobile success has come from software and services which don’t need to run on devices with the Windows logo. And serious growth has come not from the fickle consumer market, but from the enterprise with Azure and Office 365.

I think the question around consumers and enterprise is what good does it do Microsoft to have anything to do with computing beyond developers and enterprises. I was in a conversation today where this case was essentially being made. Does it make sense for Microsoft to invest heavily in having a mobile platform if its limited in adoption when they could go for services and have virtually no costs and all benefits? Could they win just by putting Office, Xbox, and desktop Windows on Android phones and iDevices?

Yes they could, but they also would be limiting themselves.

Imagine a situation in which Microsoft’s mobile efforts were built around managing iPads, Android tablets, and Chromebooks. They’d provide software and support using Intune and MDM. Now both Apple, Google, and say Amazon will also be doing the same; except they’ll have actual devices with software they make to complete the package. Now Microsoft’s strategy would manage these devices well but they would be a third party. Their solution would also have to mean the shop buying would have previous investment in the Microsoft ecosystem; this is a workable scenario but not best case.

One thing I have come to realize with computing is that it is both easy to discern enterprise computing from consumer computing and hard to divide it. It is easy because we can come up with a list detailing the need of a business and the wants of a regular consumer. Its hard because the devices and software you use for one, you use for the other. Beyond this users themselves make devices dual use. The mobile platforms people think Microsoft should abandon Windows/Windows Phone for are still largely consumer focused. The computing field has moved beyond supporting specialized software on a large scale.

I don’t think I have an answer to, “Why Windows or Windows Phone”, that will appeal to the rational. I have no answer to how to make it grow. I have my opinion and suggestions, but I’m an armchair analyst like everyone else. I can say that having a mobile platform means having a showcase for your services. It creates a physical product that makes what you sell real to people. It allows for access where otherwise you be restricted. And it is the natural step for most companies seeking growth.

So maybe Scoble is right. I mean Microsoft could make it work. It’d make Value Act and investors happy. It make Google and Apple happy. It would likely destroy whatever would be left of Microsoft’s developer base. And it would relegate Windows to the closet where all back end tech goes.

If Microsoft is okay with this I guess its the right course, but I doubt it. 



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