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Microsoft steers OEMs away from putting Phone 7 on Tablets

Cynical fee-preserving move may backfire on Redmond

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Microsoft is usually decisive. There is a saying in contact sports such as American football and rugby – it doesn‘t matter if you make a wrong decision, if you commit to it and do it hard enough, you can make it into the right decision. It works for business too.

Decisiveness – even when based on poorly thought-out decisions – can be taken for market leadership. Indecisiveness looks like you have no idea of what is going on. A Microsoft executive this week said that Phone 7 was not man enough for the job of running tablets.

At least that‘s what Greg Sullivan, senior product manager at Microsoft, said at the Windows Phone 7 launch event. He told us: "Windows 7 will provide a richer touch and applications experience and will be necessary on tablets."

Sullivan argues that Windows 7 will bring stronger networking and printing capabilities and a more powerful driver stack, which will make it easier for tablets to talk to other products.

Let‘s understand this piece of genius properly. Microsoft has just witnessed the confusion that has extended throughout the Google invasion of operating systems, when it talked about Chrome being the right operating system for some jobs, but has ended up with Android being a bigger and better success than it could ever have imagined. The lesson is to let the market use whatever the hell it wants.

Despite witnessing the confusion that Google created by putting out two operating systems, Microsoft seems hellbent on putting out three.

And now, just when it has worked out that Windows is an operating system for the previous paradigm of deskbound monster PCs, it goes and tries to dictate to the world that tablets should use it instead of Phone 7.

Microsoft will focus on bringing a new low power version of its PC platform to market for tablets. What? Yet another operating system? They‘re all called Windows, but how much of the code base is the same, if any? This is an echo from the Netbook phase of its life, when it wanted to control licensing and developer costs by introducing a "starter edition" of Windows for netbooks.

If Microsoft wants to control anything in the near future, it had better stop telling its partners and developers what they can use and what they can‘t use. It should just be happy they are using something from Microsoft at all. Next they‘ll be herding their developers and OEMs up a blind alley by telling them which chip implementations they can use for tablets. It‘s just suicide. There should be a law against it. Oh, there is? Unfortunately it doesn't cover corporate suicide.

This is not just a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, but a case of the right hand stopping the left hand from getting on with its job. If one team at Microsoft can take revenue away from another team, it should not be stopped from doing so by the corporate wallet holder. This is NOT a case of a technical preference for the capabilities of an OS, as we have seen with Android – this is a matter of market timing. Everyone needs tablets and they need them now and they need the OS to be cheap, and better still, open source.

Instead, this decision is about preservation of licensing revenues and it brings to mind the old economic law of "eating your own children". If Microsoft wants to be around for much longer, it needs to start responding to the market and not putting preservation orders on chunks of revenue. If the PC market ages, shrivels and dies in the face of the tablet, it will be a very sorry Microsoft that tells the story of how it once ruled the world (Ozymandias comes to mind).

The tablet operating system of the future will be chosen not for its technical merits, nor for its licensing fees, but for the ammunition it provides both tablet manufacturers and app developers and the sooner Microsoft gets with the program on this, the sooner the true tablet wars can start. Otherwise it will be forced to concede them prematurely. ®

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