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The Risk Of Identifying As A Platform

In a YouTube video recently posted, Bill Gates said something along the line of his greatest failure was to not lead Microsoft to produce a mobile operating system that would have been as successful as Android.

I had an up front view of Microsoft’s mobile operating systems in the early 2000s and for Microsoft to create an Android would have required something akin to a labotomy. The Microsoft of the early 2000s saw itself as a platform company, that platform being Windows, and as a consequence, its prime objective was to protect the platform because to do so was to protect its existence.

To make something like Android Microsoft would have had to be willing to create a new platform rather than try to extend a desktop platform to mobile, which was doomed for failure. Microsoft could not fathom creating a second platform because to do so, in their mind, was to put Windows at risk. (Microsoft also applied the same thinking to the Internet.)

In my opinion the most important thing Satya Nadella did when we took over Microsoft is return to Microsoft’s roots as a software developer and move away from identifying itself as a platform company. As a software developer Microsoft does not see it’s entire existence depending on Windows, which allows it to embrace other platforms such a making a robust version of Microsoft Office for iOS and Android and even to integrate Linux with Windows.

Had Microsoft not got drunk on the Windows platform, starting with Windows 95, it might have been willing to embrace the Internet and mobile more fully and maintained itself as, in Bill Gate’s words, “the” leading software company rather than “a” leading software company. It’s easy to get drunk on the amount of money successful platforms provide and appear to provide forever.

Platforms are an institution, and most institutions naturally expend tremendous effort on self preservation. In my opinion the only way a platform company can truly exist over time is by being willing to put it’s current platforms at risk of extinction through the creation of more viable future platforms. In my opinion some people in Google know this and that appears to be the reason why they are quiently working on Fuchsia but only time will tell whether this insight is fully embraced by those who are running the company.

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