Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce With Nokia, Microsoft is only buying time. Not success

With Nokia, Microsoft is only buying time. Not success

Microsoft can keep buying companies to try and gain some kind of a foothold in the mobile space but unless it buys Apple or Google, it will not succeed.

And I'm sure I can get pretty good odds on either of those events not happening.

There is something in Microsoft's culture that will prevent it from succeeding and reaching any goals it sets itself in the mobile space. That's because Windows is in its DNA.

The very word mobile evokes an image of something quick. That Microsoft is not; any success it has had in the past has only been at the third try. And there were a lot of companies that could have competed at that time but which chose to depend on the unspoken rule that competition would take place within commonly observed rules. The late Gary Kildall, for example, always thought that Microsoft would respect his turf and keep away from operating systems.

These days, everyone is prepared to play dirty. Standover tactics are part of everyone's operations manual.

When a clunky, mediocre operating system is your trademark, it is a little difficult to produce something elegant and quick, something that pleases the eye and does what it is supposed to do without making you jump through hoops.

The company that Microsoft just bought, Nokia, once depended on a mobile operating system known as Symbian. It is all that Windows is, and more. Horribly slow, it drives one to distraction. But Nokia was at that time the biggest seller of mobiles. And it got a little caught up in its own arrogance.

Once Apple entered the scene, Nokia had to think again. Once Google joined the fray, Nokia had to think twice. It wasn't fast enough, it wasn't good enough. It joined hands with Microsoft. That wasn't exactly the wisest thing to do. But people generally repent at leisure.

Microsoft's share of the mobile market right now is 3.3 per cent. And it figures that it can get to 15 per cent in five years. But how?

Tactics that Microsoft used in the past to grab marketshare from other players will no longer work. That is because the market is already apportioned and nobody is holding their breath waiting for a Windows phone. Back in the days of the fledgling PC, there was no dominant player. Cut-throat tactics could be applied by those who controlled standards - something which Microsoft made sure it did.

But Microsoft has no leverage in the mobile market. It has a brand which is not exactly free from damage; every fresh iteration of its signature software only evokes more and more criticism for poor design, clunkiness and just plain woolly-headed thinking.

Firefox has a much better brand and once its phones are available widely, it will also gain traction. That's another headache on the horizon.

As far as tying up the mobile space goes, it is one minute to midnight. Microsoft is acting as though it is early evening. Old habits die hard.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.