Bill Gates is smart (and — since he matured, married and had kids — a good global citizen) so this claim by him the other day is weird:
“There’s no doubt that the antitrust lawsuit was bad for Microsoft, and we would have been more focused on creating the phone operating system and so instead of using Android today you would be using Windows Mobile,” claimed Gates. “If it hadn’t been for the antitrust case… we were so close, I was just too distracted. I screwed that up because of the distraction.”
Ben Evans does a lovely demolition job on this in his newsletter.
I struggle to see how this is plausible.
- Microsoft, Nokia, Palm and Blackberry all arrived in 2007 with mobile platforms conceived in the late 90s and early 2000s that could not compete with the iPhone, needed to make something entirely new, and none managed to make the jump (even Nokia’s Maemo didn’t ship until 2010) – the others didn’t have anti-trust issues
- The Windows Phone that Microsoft did deliver in 2010 was fundamentally a modern-looking skin (‘Metro’) on top of a pre-iPhone architecture, without a solid developer path
- Android was open-source, and so unlike Microsoft didn’t appear to threaten control by one company (ironic, in hindsight), and free, which matters far more for a $200 phone than a $1000 PC.
- You can argue that Microsoft could have executed better, but imagine going to Bill in 2008 and saying ‘we need to make a free, open-source OS with no Windows compatibility’
- It may be easier to blame anti-trust (post hoc ergo propter hoc) than say that Microsoft had the wrong product and wrong strategy, and was a classic victim of disruption.
Spot on. Nailed it.
LATER Cory Doctorow has an interesting post arguing that, in a way, the ‘distraction’ was useful, even if the antitrust suit did not result in the eventually breakup of Microsoft.
Which reminds me of the remarkable video of Gates being interviewed during the case. Scary stuff, which among other things illustrates how far he has come from his early days.