Michael Mace on Microsoft’s Messy Windows Strategy

Or is that strategies?

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Michael Mace of Mobile Opportunity is one of the most insightful tech bloggers on the planet. Tragically, he’s also one of the least prolific — months sometimes pass between his posts. But when he does chime in, you know it’s going to be good. His new post on what’s going on with Windows, “Has Microsoft Gone Nuts?,” is a doozy.

Writing about rumors that Nokia is working on a phone operating system based on Google’s Android, Mace says:

But if that’s the right strategy for the Nokia business unit, it’s also the right strategy for Microsoft’s OS licensing. If you’re giving away Windows Phone for free, the only way you’ll make money from it is through bundled services. You could just as easily bundle those services on a forked version of Android, save the expense of creating and maintaining all the low-level OS plumbing, and get access to the Android customer and app base. That sounds like a much more appealing licensed OS than Windows Phone, even though you still have the problem of Nokia competing with your other licensees.

But that’s not the roadmap we’re hearing from the Microsoft OS team. Instead, they’re talking about creating a single Windows code base that runs across all types of devices, something that’s technically appealing if you’re a Microsoft engineer but thoroughly uninteresting to customers.

I’m a mere tech writer, and the notion of Microsoft embracing Android makes my brain melt. For Microsoft itself, Mace’s argument must sound like the equivalent of Coca-Cola being told that it should give up on Coke and just sign up to bottle Pepsi.

The answer to the question Mace poses in his title, incidentally, is “no.” Microsoft hasn’t gone nuts. But when you’re tweaking a radically new operating system which hasn’t captured the world’s imagination (Windows 8), trying to catch up with the twin 800-pound gorillas of mobile computing (iOS and Android), getting ready to digest an enormous handset manufacturer (Nokia) and are looking for a new CEO to replace the guy who’s helped direct your strategy since the Carter administration (Steve Ballmer)…well, life is going to be messy and uncertain. And is likely to remain so for years to come.