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Three years ago, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile dominated the world of mobility.  Thirty-six months later they have disappeared from consumer mobility and are fighting to defend their last foothold in enterprise mobility.  How could a company as successful and technologically astute as Microsoft fail so completely in a market as large and important as mobility?  They roared right past Palm with their marketing power a few years ago but then they seem to have taken a sabbatical.

In the July 5th edition of The New York Times, Ashlee Vance wrote an article entitled, Microsoft Calling. Anyone There?  In this article she writes that one of the key challenges Microsoft faces is attracting young developers.  Vance writes that young cash strapped entrepreneurs are working with free or low cost software from places like Google’s Android and Apple.  They are avoiding expensive developer licenses that Microsoft often requires.  The hip young developer community doesn’t even consider Microsoft when looking to develop cool new mobile software applications.  They don’t believe it has market potential worth pursuing.

Microsoft is striking out on just about every attempt in mobility.  Not only have they lost incredible market share, but they bought mobile phone designer, Danger, released a mobile phone designed for social networking called Kin, and then canceled it after only eight weeks.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “A problem cannot be solved with the same thinking that created it.”  I think Microsoft needs a new spin-off company that focuses on mobility.  It is painfully clear that the Microsoft of old is struggling in the mobility arena.  It is not just their mobile technology but their business model.  If young developers are focusing on developing applications with free software from Apple and Android and looking to make innovative applications for tens of millions of users, then Microsoft must have a solution for them if they want to be a contender.

A spin-off strategy is not new for technology companies.  Motorola announced this week that they are splitting their company into two separate entities the first quarter of 2011.  They are splitting the company into a consumer company and a company focused on enterprise mobility.  The purpose is to focus.  Focus on what it takes for each group to be successful.

Organizational changes are very interesting to me.  I have seen market leaders like Palm, Microsoft, GM and others simply lose their ability to compete.  Today, a company can go from market leader to after thought in a few months.  What makes the difference?  Is it luck or strategy?

Microsoft is making another attempt to jump back into mobility now with their new strategy that is summarized nicely in Gil Bouhnick’s blog article: 
http://clicksoftware-mobilefever.blogspot.com/2010/06/microsoft-announces-windows-embedded.html.  It will be very interesting to see if they can right the ship.

I am serious when I say that the chaos therory, and the study of how ice crystals grow may be useful in understanding how to manage and build a mobile technology company nowadays.  Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, physics, economics and philosophy studying the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. This sensitivity is popularly referred to as the butterfly effect.

The phrase, butterfly effect, refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in a certain location. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events (compare: domino effect). Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different. While the butterfly does not “cause” the tornado in the sense of providing the energy for the tornado, it does “cause” it in the sense that the flap of its wings is an essential part of the initial conditions resulting in a tornado, and without that flap that particular tornado would not have existed (source Wikipedia).

Little moves in software pricing, distribution models, online app stores, support and search engine optimizations a few years ago have changed the trajectory of mobility forever.

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  1. Gregory Misiorek
    Hi Kevin,

    Why should we be worrying about Microsoft? They have their future guaranteed as long as PC’s are around. They are not doomed. Just try to take spreadsheets away from accountants. I think Microsoft can only benefit from competing with its perennial rival Apple. Only few years ago, when defending Windows and Explorer monopoly, Mr Gates himself was making statements about cool technologies being able to take over as standard setters. I think Apple is doing exactly that. And who would think they would turn themselves around so dynamically only 5-10 years ago? All we have to do is to make sure that our SAP skills get leveraged into the latest and fastest growing platforms.

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    1. David Greengas
      It may be only accountants using spreadsheets. The rest of us may not be using “PC’s” at all. SAP’s move into the mobile space seems very promising and timely. This move to a more mobile environment with new competitors will force more open api’s and standards. This will also benefit SAP as a consumer/developer of content rather than an API or standard developer. The other factor that makes it an exciting time is the speed of innovation. The more competition there is from Free Software platforms that have a release early and release often mentality, the faster the market will react. This will force both proprietary and Free Software platforms to adapt quickly or be left behind.
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  2. Holger Stumm
    Just this morning, I read (via Twitter) an article of Tim O’Reilly, the publisher in reply to Ashee Vance: “I was rather dismayed to find words put into my mouth in Ashee Vance’s story
    The author wrote an opinion piece, but wrote it as if he were reporting comments I’d made. “
    Frustrated-by-flamebait-NY-reporting-in-Microsoft

    Tim O’Reilly put these quotes in a very balanced point of view:
    “Microsoft still has big, active developer communities, and that you shouldn’t assume that just because you can’t see them in San Francisco, that they are dead. “

    This is the key point. Microsoft is, like SAP, no more the “big-and-next-hype Geek Fan”, that comes and goes in the same speed. They cater to small, medium and large enterprises that don’t need daily geek innovation, but rather continoous technology that is reliable and points toward future strategies.

    I do Microsoft Development and we are also Microsoft Partner, running SAP on Windows Server – Microsoft is a fast moving partner with an understanding of the needs of business. And their innovation path is reliable. As more as we work together, as more I appreciate their (rather unspectacular) way to innovation

    SAP itself is using Silverlight for example in varoius context, from Solution Manager to Business By Design.

    You will not get the Geek Award for using Microsoft, but the appreciation of enterprise IT strategists in the long run.

    Running around with IPAD and IPod and drooling over dashboards is not an ERP strategy. 

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    1. Kevin Benedict Post author
      I agree that Microsoft can be a reliable enterprise partner.  I would not agree that their innovation path is alwasy reliable – think their new Smartphone “Kin” that was cancelled after 60 days on the market. 

      A reliable partner would help you utilize the explosion of mobile technology and provide you with a defined strategy for mobilizing your business processes and ERPs.  Microsoft has until recently, failed to deliver a mobile strategy equal to the progress made by the rest of the world.

      Enterprises are using Blackberrys, iPhones and Android devices.  Where are the Microsoft devices?  Until a few weeks ago, even the ruggedized handheld manufacturers were not sure what Microsoft was doing.  That is not my idea of reliable – at least in enterprise mobility.

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