In a recent interview, the co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, has commented on the decisions made in the company about its mobile operating system. Gates revealed that his “greatest mistake of all time” was that Microsoft missing the Android opportunity:
“In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. That is, Android is the standard non-Apple phone platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win. It really is winner take all. If you’re there with half as many apps or 90 percent as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system and what’s that worth? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G to company M.”
It is worth to mention that Google had acquired Android back in 2005 for $50 million, and former CEO Eric Schmidt admitted that Google’s initial focus was beating Microsoft’s early Windows Mobile efforts. “At the time we were very concerned that Microsoft’s mobile strategy would be successful,” said Schmidt during a 2012 legal fight with Oracle about Java. Android ultimately killed Windows Mobile and Windows Phone off, and became the Windows equivalent in the mobile world.
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Gates’ admission of part of the fault is something surprising since many had assumed that the opportunity lost by Microsoft was an error of the Steve Ballmer era.
Microsoft spent months internally discussing whether the company should abandon its efforts in Windows Mobile but, in a meeting in December 2008, discarded Windows Mobile and started again with Windows Phone, which also failed miserably.
Although former Windows boss Terry Myerson and Joe Belfiore of Microsoft participated in that meeting, it is likely that the company had sought the advice of Bill Gates in some way.
Gates resigned as CEO in 2000, assuming the role of chief software architect during the crucial years that preceded Microsoft Windows Phone and Windows Vista errors. Gates resigned as a chief software architect in July 2008, and continued as president of the company until Satya Nadella took over as CEO in 2014.
Gates promised to “substantially increase his dedication” to Microsoft in 2014, and the Microsoft Edge team sought his opinion on the movement of the company to Chromium last year. Gates has been collaborating on a mysterious “personal agent” project at Microsoft in recent years, and now uses an Android phone.
On the other hand, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that Windows Vista was his biggest mistake at Microsoft before his farewell.
Microsoft seems to have overcome its errors in mobile phones, and the company’s cloud business is thriving. “It’s amazing to me that having made one of the greatest mistakes of all time, and there was this antitrust lawsuit and various things, that our other assets like Windows and Office are still very strong, so we are a leading company,” says Gates. “If we had gotten that one right, we would be the leading company, but oh well.”