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Google v Microsoft mobile war: Who's REALLY to blame?

It's just like the old days of sparring tech titans

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Microsoft first learned about Google's plans to drop support for Redmond's ActiveSync for those signing up for a free Google account last summer, but now it wants the search giant to delay the decision, according to a report.

Google's plan to drop push email, calendar and contacts syncing via the ActiveSync protocol emerged shortly before Christmas - and is detailed in an official support note here. Paying business users and existing free consumer accounts should not be affected, and iPhone and iPad users can use native Google apps as an alternative, which are built into Google's Android anyway. But Google has no plans to support Windows Phone.

Instead, it wants users to use the CalDAV and CardDAV methods, which are widely supported by industry, and which Apple has supported since 2005.

The Verge reckons that Microsoft was informed of the plans last summer, and advised Microsoft to provide Windows Phone access via the preferred CalDAV and CardDAV. But Microsoft was scrambling to make a major platform switch, with Windows 8 based on the NT kernel. This meant key features - including Notifications - were not implemented in time for OEMs like Nokia to ship Windows 8 devices before Christmas, as they wished.

By itself, this is a minor skirmish. Businesses can sign up users to one of many genuine hosted Exchange accounts for around £3 a month. Or for a similar fee, a Zimbra service will do push email, calendaring and contacts nicely, via IMAP or ActiveSync. Or Google will sign you up to Apps for Business and throw in video conferencing and its rudimentary online Office apps. It's a foolish business, whether a sole trader or a corporate, that relies on freebies.

But it's part of a bigger picture that Microsoft paints, of Google making Windows Phone a second class citizen. Microsoft's deputy legal counsel Dave Heiner complained that Google had refused to disclose information needed to make a competitive YouTube client for WinPho. According to Heiner, YouTube was keen to provide the information but had been overruled by Google's top management.

Google also nixed Windows Phone 8 users briefly from accessing Google Maps.

For older readers, it may sound familiar. During US and EU antitrust actions in 2003 and 2006, competitors alleged that Microsoft had blocked them from accessing protocol information they needed to build compatible products. For example, both Cisco and AT&T were unable to build network servers or appliances that acted as a Primary Domain Controller. And when Microsoft cryptographically signed its DLLs, it effectively killed off Novell's NDS for NT product. It also meant Novell, which had been the king of the network, had difficulties with deployment in many mixed environments. Redmond later paid $536m to settle litigation with Novell.

You might also remember that Microsoft itself once guarded ActiveSync quite fiercely, demanding licence fees. The rapid rise of RIM in the enterprise saw Microsoft become much more promiscuous - although vigilant monitoring by European and US antitrust watchdogs surely helped. The biter is finding itself bit.

That said, it is curious that Microsoft hasn't yet implemented years-old enterprise messaging standards into WinPhone. It's a distant fourth in the mobile wars, and while it has a very good software offering, it must tick all the boxes. ®

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