Microsoft co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates has revealed he thinks that everyone could have been using Windows Mobile (the predecessor to Windows Phone) right now, and not Android.
Microsoft as a company, he claimed got distracted from building a dominant mobile operating system, because of the disruptive antitrust probe from the US Justice Department in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Android of course is now the leading mobile operating system (by some margin), with Apple’s iOS in second place.
Bill Gates was the CEO of Microsoft from 1975 to 2000, when he stepped down (but he remained as chairman and chief software architect until February 2014).
Gates made his comments about Android and Windows Mobile, when he was speaking at The New York Times’ DealBook Conference.
A video on the interview can be found here. Gates makes his comments about Windows Mobile starting around the 21 minute mark.
“There’s no doubt that the antitrust lawsuit was bad for Microsoft, and we would have been more focused on creating the phone operating system and so instead of using Android today you would be using Windows Mobile,” claimed Gates. “If it hadn’t been for the antitrust case… we were so close, I was just too distracted. I screwed that up because of the distraction.”
Tales in Tech History: Windows Mobile
In 1998, the Justice Department and 20 US states had filed a lawsuit charging Microsoft with violating antitrust laws.
The main issue was whether Microsoft had used its Windows monopoly to force computer makers to exclude the hugely popular Netscape Navigator browser on their PCs.
Many observers believe Microsoft at the time came close to be being broken up, and the DoJ case was only settled in 2001.
Meanwhile Bill Gates also revealed during the talk that Microsoft also missed the opportunity to launch Windows Mobile on a key Motorola handset, thought to the Motorola Droid which launched with Android and was a big hit in the late 2000s.
“We were just three months too late on a release Motorola would have used on a phone, so yes it’s a winner takes all game,” explained Gates. “Now nobody here has ever heard of Windows Mobile, but oh well. That’s a few hundred billion here or there.”
Gates had earlier this year said that losing to Android his “greatest mistake ever,” and he admitted the loss was worth $400 billion.
Tales In Tech History: Windows Phone
This echoed previous comments, when in a 2013 interview with CBS This Morning’s Charlie Rose, Gates (who was then still Microsoft chairman), admitted the company’s early mobile strategy was “clearly a mistake” since it “didn’t allow us to get the leadership”.
Windows Mobile had been around from 2000 to 2010 (although it was available as far back as 1996 as Windows CE).
Essentially it was designed to be a portable equivalent of the Windows ‘ desktop operating system. It became a player in the then-emerging mobile area, but failed to succeed against the likes of Android and iOS.
Microsoft in 2010 announced Windows Phone to supersede Windows Mobile, and the rest is history.
In late 2017, Gates admitted that uses an Android phone with ‘a lot of Microsoft software’.