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The Windows Mobile era took a heavy toll on Microsoft's mobile efforts

In a new candid interview with CBS Corp.'s (CBS) titular station, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) co-founder and famed philanthropist Bill Gates discusses his former company's struggles in the mobile era.  Microsoft today accounts for less than 5 percent of the smartphone market, according to most estimates.

For a time, Microsoft held nearly a quarter of the fledgling smartphone market (circa 2004).  But it failed to keep up with rivals like Google Inc. (GOOG) and Apple, Inc. (AAPL), sticking for years with the increasingly dated Windows Mobile platform.  In November 2010, Microsoft launched a new operating system, Windows Phone, which was ambitious but lacked strong third-party hardware support.  Today Microsoft is still struggling to sell the market on its latest mobile OS -- Windows Phone 8.

Bill Gates in the interview calls Microsoft's former cellphone strategy "clearly a mistake", remarking, "There's a lot of things like cellphones where we didn't get out in the lead early.  We didn't miss cellphones, but the way that we went about it didn't allow us to get the leadership."

The tech icon says that both he and current CEO (and close friend) Steve Ballmer are both incredibly "self-critical".  He comments, "He [Ballmer] and I are not satisfied that in terms of breakthrough things that we're doing everything possible."

Steve Ballmer
Steve Ballmer's company has struggled in the mobile era, since Mr. Gates' retirement.
[Image Source: SFGate]

Mr. Gates expressed confidence, though, that it's not too late for Microsoft to claw its way to a significant mobile market share.  He's a big fan of Windows 8 and Microsoft's Surface tablet.

Microsoft is reportedly aiming to unify the Windows and Windows Phone platforms under one consistent set of mostly overlapping APIs and user interface themes, to allow users to feel more comfortable with both form factors, and to help developers save time deploying cross-platform apps.  The first unified release, Windows Blue, may land late this summer.

The revisions are also accompanied with some big leadership change.  Windows President Steven Sinofsky was driven out and new rising stars are taking his place at the company.  Some investors have called on CEO Ballmer to step down, but for now Mr. Ballmer is hanging tight in the top spot, vocal as ever.

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RE: Windows 8 Phone is great
By Tony Swash on 2/18/2013 7:51:47 PM , Rating: -1
You must be talking about the late 90s when OS X was released.

Because Macs in the early 1990s were garbage and Gil Amelio knew it and so did everyone else at Apple.

A quick factual correction, Mac OS X was not released in the late 90s (other than public beta previews) MacOSX Version 10.0 wasn't released until 2001.

Macs in the 1990s, certainly compared to Macs post Jobs and post MacOSX, may have been garbage in the 1990s but they were always less awful and less garbage like than the contemporaneous versions of Windows. The old pre-MacOSX systems were always better, and significantly better, than the version of Windows they competed against and the story of Windows has always been the same: striving to catch up in performance, features and design to the Mac OS, but finding that by the time it does the Mac OS had moved on again and is still out in front. MacOSX was the big step change because it was only with Windows 7, years after MacOSX got on the road, did Microsoft come close to MacOSX and but even Windows 7 only really matched MacOSX 10.3. Windows 8 is of course a massive step back.

But none of that mattered because it's not the innate qualities of the OS that determines platform success or failure, what determines which platform succeeds is actually pretty complex, and what determines platform success in the PC market is different to what determines platform success in the mobile device market. One illustration of that is how market share was a very good proxy measurement of platform performance in the PC markets and it's a poor proxy measurement of platform performance in the mobile device markets (hence iOS with a smaller market share out performs Android as a platform so easily and by so much).

"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?... So why the f*** doesn't it do that?" -- Steve Jobs

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