This week’s critical drubbing of Windows Mobile 6.5 may give Redmond something to smile about.
Back in the day, Microsoft used to get it in the neck from the Feds, from the developer community and from the industry at large. It seemed that whatever they did provoked ire. From their heavy handed negotiations with PC manufacturers, to their wilful bundling of useful new features into their market dominating operating system.
How times have changed. These days, it just doesn't seem sporting to bait Microsoft. They appear to have lost the search engine wars (with Bing proving to be more of a Blip); they've lost the digital music wars (with Apple enjoying Windows-like market domination for their ubiquitous iPod & iTunes ecosystem); and then there's the sorry tale of Windows Mobile - a product that is hard even for Steve Ballmer to love.
So what's eating Microsoft? They have some of the best and brightest minds in the world cooped up in their Redmond campus, and yet, time after time, they appear to fail to deliver, ceding one sector after another to an arch rival… Or do they?
Superficially, Microsoft may not seem much like a possum. After all, possums are cuddly-looking and cute, whilst Microsoft is testosterone-charged and sweaty. But perhaps they have more in common than meets the eye. North American possums (or technically "opossums") have developed the remarkable ability of feigning sickness and injury to evade a predator: they "play possum", exhibiting the unsavoury behaviour of looking and even smelling like a sick or dead animal, thus repelling their enemies.
Could Microsoft be employing a similar strategy? Certainly, their predators’ attentions are elsewhere. President Obama's new antitrust czar at the Department of Justice, Christine Varney, is famously quoted as saying "For me, Microsoft is so last century. They are not the problem." Instead, the U.S. economy will see problems "potentially with Google."
The truth is that Microsoft's high profile failures mask their rude health and notable success. It's a significant but oft-overlooked fact that Microsoft earns money on the sale of every iPhone, through its Exchange ActiveSync Licensing Program. As Apple, Palm and Blackberry battle it out for domination of the emerging mainstream smartphone sector, you can rest assured that Microsoft will win regardless the outcome, since interoperability with Exchange is a prerequisite for the success of any handset. And that means a healthy Microsoft tax on every handset and server sold. That poor old possum, Microsoft, must be weeping all the way to the bank with Apple's recent success.
Far from losing sleep over the poor reviews garnered for Windows Mobile 6.5 this week, perhaps the folks at Redmond were uncorking the champagne, as another brilliant, yet dastardly strategy reaches fruition.