Microsoft's CES Misdirection Depends On Developers To Succeed

The version of Windows running on the ARM platform that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed at Consumer Electronics Show, only hinted at Redmond's four-point plan for the future of its flagship operating system.
I wonder if this strategy of letting Windows desktop developers use both what they have and what they know might invoke a Stockholm-syndrome response in those who trust their livelihoods to Microsoft's world. If Microsoft and its business strategy is cornered by the cash cow of desktop Windows, these third-party developers are just as much a captive.

Microsoft is saying to its developers, "We can give you a nearly pain-free path to ease into the mobile world; you don't have to throw away all your code or relearn everything you know." Best of all for Microsoft, it preserves their investment in existing technologies like .NET, doesn't actively cannibalize the profitable desktop or server businesses, and fits in with Ballmer's promise at CES: "Whatever device you use, Windows will be there."

Developers already engaged in mobile app development on Android and Apple platforms will not find this argument convincing, though. Microsoft has almost no presence in the mobile world today. With Microsoft so far behind, it won't make sense for ARM Windows to be the tail that wags the dog as far as choice of mobile development environment goes.

To play all the mobile-platform bases it is safer to develop an app in HTML and Javascript; that will run on iPhone, iPad, Android, and ARM Windows as well. Wrappers like PhoneGap can let an HTML application get access to platform features, and no doubt there will be a version for ARM Windows when the time comes. So although this four-developer strategy makes sense for Microsoft, it might not make sense for the market.

One thing that seems to be missing from this strategy is consumers. Microsoft is hoping that if they can create an environment where consumers can use at least some of their existing devices and software with Microsoft mobile operating systems, they will be more likely to go with Windows. I am not so sure about this "Build it and they will come" approach.

Consumers already have plenty of non-Microsoft options like the iPad with sexy hardware and a decent selection of apps. Microsoft's odds may be better in corporate environments, where in-house familiarity with .NET may possibly drive the decision to use Windows-based tablets and phones.


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