Thursday, 10 May 2012

Microsoft's old tricks will doom Windows on tablets

Amazing. Just when I was actually starting to like MS again (after decades agin), they fall back on their old bad ways.

In a recent Register article, the Mozilla Foundation and Google have been complaining loudly that Microsoft will only be allowing Internet Explorer as the default browser on ARM-based tablets and devices running Windows 8 - or Windows RT as it will be called on those platforms.

For those of us with recall slightly better than the common-or-garden-pond goldfish, this brings back memories of the antitrust battles that were fought in the US and in European courts as Microsoft tried to monopolise first the browser space, then the media player space. In both cases, MS gave their own products "most favoured nation" status, with private programming interfaces not provided to rivals. In both cases, MS tried to make their own product inherent to the operating system, restricting or even preventing rival products' attempts to allow themselves to be default. In earlier times, Microsoft even (allegedly) committed occasional "dirty tricks" that deliberately caused their competitors' programs to misbehave, and appear to be buggy, in unfair comparison with MS's own.

And now it's happening again.

The antitrust lawyers will have a field day with this. MS will be stomped on from on high in the US and European courts, and end up paying a fortune and opening out the OS again, just as happened before.

Compare Microsoft's market capitalisation with Apple's and Google's, over the past ten years. They tell their own tale. MSFT's been on a slow slide over that period, and the upcoming news isn't good.

The problem is a lack of vision at the highest levels.

Microsoft's principal market is in desktop and laptop PCs, particularly in business - and desktops are rapidly going the way of the mammoth. Microsoft's laptop market share is under pressure from Apple laptops, and Apple and Android tablets, and it's only going to get worse unless MS acts. Rather late in the day, Microsoft has seen that it must have a tablet proposition, or fail; hence the genuinely innovative Metro user interface.

They've also spotted that Intel-architecture processors aren't future-proof any more, and that ARM is making more and more Intel products look decidedly yesterday's news. Compare ARM's and Intel's growth, and it's plain to see the trend. So, MS had to come out with ARM versions of their key products before market drift made them (MS, and their products) obsolete.

There have been signs of a change in Microsoft's course. For about the first time, the company has been engaging fairly with the open source community. They've started to innovate, at long last - Metro being a case in point. And, of course, addressing the ARM-based portable devices was seismic in its impact.

Unfortunately, the old-school leadership has undermined these welcome initiatives. Microsoft hasn't yet stopped covert operations around open standards, a pattern we all remember from allegations of ballot-stuffing on standards committees. And this most recent anti-competitive behaviour shows once again how Microsoft's leaders seem locked in an early-1990s time warp, and yet appear to have learnt nothing at all from the company's history of causing costly and ultimately unsuccessful court battles.

Microsoft's corporate investors can have only limited patience. Microsoft needs vision. Time for a change at the top, before their leaders squander the rest of Microsoft's share value.

No comments:

Post a comment