Maybe Microsoft Should Try Being a Software Company


The future looks grim for Microsoft. The world is quickly turning mobile and post-PC, two categories Microsoft hasn’t succeeded in.

Recent reports from Gartner and IDC show just how dire the situation is. PC sales, which are directly tied to sales of Microsoft Windows, are in a free fall. Between 2012 and 2013, PC sales dropped by 10% (that’s 35 million fewer PCs).

Gartner says only 15% of Internet-connected devices sold in 2014 will run Windows.

That’s Windows’ real market share: 15%.

Having tried everything else, maybe the solution for Microsoft is to be a software company. That would mean embracing Android with everything they’ve got. 

Why Apple and Google Win

Apple is eating Microsoft’s lunch in the business and enterprise markets. More than 90% of all business apps were deployed on iOS in the third quarter of last year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The reason Apple is winning and Microsoft is losing in the business app market is that Apple uses the “gateway drug” model to lure consumers from one category of device to another. They started by getting Windows users to use the iPod. They got iPod users to use the iPhone. They got iPhone users to use the iPad. Eventually, many of these users liked their Apple mobile devices so much they went ahead and bought iMacs and MacBooks.

Google sells what is by far the most popular operating system in history: Android, of course. That used to be Microsoft’s position. But those days are gone. I suspect that the reason Google is winning and Microsoft is losing is in part that Google is agnostic and Microsoft is religious.

For example, the late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs declared “thermonuclear war” on Google, vowed to destroy the company and shut them out in every way they reasonably could. Google responded to that by…. making some of the best iOS apps available. They’re agnostic. They put their apps and services everywhere they possibly can no matter what. So they’re winning.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is holding back. They still don’t want to contribute to Android’s appeal and success, so they’re not making stand-alone Office or other apps for Android, only the extremely unprofitable Office 365 “service.” When they came out with Office 365 for Android it was for phones only, not tablets.

The trouble is, Microsoft is lost. They want to be everything except for what they in fact actually are, which is a software company.

Microsoft’s mission used to be: “a computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software.”

In other words: to put Microsoft software on every computer.

Now Microsoft’s mission, as of a few months ago, is: “to create a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most.”

In other words: to make some devices and services. Microsoft’s new mission doesn’t even contain the word “software.”

Microsoft is achieving its mission. It’s making some devices and services. What it’s not doing is putting Microsoft software on every computer.

Nokia owns 92% of the tiny Windows Phone market. Now, the company is rumored to be working on an Android phone code-named “Normandy.”

Because Microsoft is in the process of acquiring Nokia’s devices & services business (as well as license Nokia’s patents and mapping services), some are toying with the notion of Microsoft selling an Android phone in the future. Pundits, such as Ewan Spence writing for Forbes, says Microsoft should go for it.

I don’t disagree with that, but the whole idea is ass-backwards.

The answer for Microsoft isn’t for Microsoft the hardware company to embrace Android. The answer is for Microsoft the application software company to embrace Android.

How Microsoft Can Win

Microsoft should make native Android versions of every application it makes for Windows Phone and iOS, and work on porting as much of the Windows applications it can for Android.

Microsoft needs to be a drug dealer like Apple, making great software and putting it everywhere. Android users who love Microsoft’s Android software may be later inspired to switch to Windows phones, tablets and desktops.

Microsoft needs to be agnostic like Google and put all its software on all major platforms, including and especially Android. For mobile apps, they should neither fear nor favor Android, as the leading OS and just get new versions on all major platforms as soon as possible. That’s what Google does — their best apps often ship first on iOS. Delaying and withholding Microsoft apps from Android is not going to help Android beat Windows — in fact, the opposite is true.

But mostly, Microsoft needs to be a software company like Microsoft used to be. It’s fine to make hardware and offer services. But focus on software!

The first act of Microsoft’s new CEO should be to kill the new mission and embrace the old one. Microsoft should commit itself to putting Microsoft software on every computer — especially computers running the world’s most popular operating system.

(Picture courtesy of Onlive Desktop)