Microsoft: Lessons in Strategic Technology Management


Windows Mobile 10

Those who follow the Apple Newton story are also students of strategy technology management.  Often we have mused or even agonised over Steve Jobs’ fateful decision to discontinue the Newton line. Many of the factors that influenced his decision parallel those that confronted Microsoft over the years.

Peter Bright has written an insightful account of the behind the scenes and under the hood factors that have shaped the major decisions made by Microsoft that have puzzled many over the years. Unfortunately these decisions have betrayed innocent users, such as those who bought Windows RT devices, who made purchases in good faith only to have the rug pulled from out of them by Microsoft’s U-turns.

These factors included:

  • A passionate vision to see Windows everywhere on all types of devices.
  • A UX that mirrored Desktop Windows but was not touch friendly and looked stale.
  • A mature and intense market share war with Palm and Blackberry and combined with a spot of complacency based on a strong market share lead, meant the threat presented by Apple’s entrance with no market share at all being underestimated.
  • An extant operating system that didn’t support the technologies that Microsoft needed it to in order to succeed in the smartphone space.
  • The quite different hardware technologies utilized in the ARM ecosystem compared to the Intel/PC ecosystem.
  • A disjointed organisational structure that prevented the Windows being developed respectively for mobile and desktop from ever being consistent.
  • A decision to reboot the UX design being difficult because they already had a dominant market share.
  • There was a loyal user base who wanted backward compatibility and feared change.
  • It was a significant investment in resource and time to redevelop Windows to support ARM.
Apple Newton.

Apple Newton.

By the time Apple Newton was axed, the code base for the Newton OS was several years old, and overly complex with all the patches that had been applied to it over that time.  Mac OS was also getting long in the tooth.  It too needed a rewrite.  Apple lacked the resources to rewrite both.  Things were so bad Apple was relying on Microsoft for financial support.

When tech companies reach a certain age, the fundamental technologies from which they derived their success must be rewritten, but planning often has to start while the extant technologies are still successful. Not that easy to do. One school of thought will argue that it is a waste of money. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. This is severe myopia and when this school prevails, the result can bring the enterprise to its knees. It nearly destroyed Apple.

From a survivability point of view, Micrasoft has done a remarkably good job. It transitioned from text based DOS to the graphical Windows without too much blood on the floor. On the other hand, if has found the smartphone seas much more difficult to navigate.

Today, it looks like Microsoft has walked away from the consumer and focussed on the business sector. If true, then that is unfortunate because it was consumer demand that led to the development of BYOD policies.  BYOD was the force that legitimized consumers bringing their own devices to use at work.  BYOD looks like it is here to stay.  Consumers will therefore continue to shape which mobile devices are used at work.  There is a high likelihood that Microsoft will have to revisit the consumer device market in the near future.

On the bright side, Microsoft has made difficult decisions and been through the pain. Now that they have established a platform with a great deal of harmony between its manifestations on different devices, developers have the prospect of writing for a smartphone and with minimal investment make it usable on a desktop or tablet or the other way around.

Microsoft is not the only party to the pain. Its customers have felt the pain too. And that pain has damaged Microsoft’s credibility in the smartphone business. Will the benefits of the new platform outweigh the cost?  Possibly.

Maybe tablets might be where Windows gains a foothold in the consumer market.  Windows has been slow to gain traction in the tablet market.  Windows market share in tablets is currently 9% and growing.  More manufacturers, such as Samsung, Vaio, Alcatel and HP  have released Windows Mobile smartphones.

It’s not over, ’til it’s over.

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