Conflicting opinions on Windows Mobile: Open source or open FUD?

Steve Ballmer is nothing if not upfront by his weird notions of how to make money in mobile.

Last night in reading through my RSS newsreader I came across these two posts - one from CNET's Dave Rosenberg and the other from Funambol's Fabrizio Capobianco - and had to laugh at the odd juxtaposition of two seemingly diametrically opposed ideas:

So, which will it be? Open-source Windows Mobile or proprietary Windows Mobile, continuing to be sold at an outlandish $8 to $15 per phone for software that Businessweek's Stephen Wildstrom calls "awkward to use after a decade of tweaking by Microsoft."

It sounds like Windows Mobile should be free, and not because of any strategy to counter open-source Symbian (Nokia) or open-source Linux (Google). No, Microsoft should be giving it away because its Windows Mobile operating system is potty, despite a decade of effort to improve it. Microsoft has tried to replicate the desktop Windows experience on the handheld. Big mistake.

Microsoft's strategy? Well, as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer notes, it's pretty much the same as ever: FUD the competition rather than beat it:

It's interesting to ask why would Google or Nokia, Google in particular, why would they invest a lot of money and try to do a really good job if they make no money. I think most operators and telecom companies are skeptical about Google. Handset makers are skeptical of Nokia, operators are skeptical of Google, I think by actually charging money people know exactly what our motivations are.

Just because people know that Microsoft wants to screw them doesn't mean they like it, Mr. Ballmer. First mistake.

The second, and more egregious mistake, is in assuming that Microsoft has discovered the only way to make money from software and that its 20th-century licensing model is God's divinely-appointed way for the next millennium .

I suspect Google and Nokia have a clear strategy in play, just as Apple does (which relies not on licensing the software on a separate basis, but rather in creating a compelling end-to-end experience, which Microsoft hates one day but loves the next ).

It could very well be, Mr. Ballmer, that the world will continue to ignore Windows Mobile, with its 12 percent global market share, in favor of new ways of licensing and delivering value. Or didn't you get the memo?

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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