Can Microsoft make Windows better than iOS and Android without being deemed anti-competitive?

Joseph Finney

Now that Microsoft is #3 will they be able to make Windows as good as iOS and Android?

For most of their early existence, Microsoft has been the number one technology company. The 90s were a time of unbridled success for them but after XP, Microsoft took a tumble in the minds of consumers. With the mobile revolution, Microsoft was seemingly left behind even though it had smartphones and PDAs for years before the iPhone. Apple and Google now hold the majority of consumer device sales and Microsoft’s mobile platform is barely noticed.

In the past, Microsoft tried to deliver a great experience on their operating systems by including everything that any user would need. However, since Microsoft held such a dominant position with personal computers, it was accused of being a monopoly and anti-competitive. Apple at the same time was bundling its software with their operating system with no restrictions.

Microsoft only has 14 percent of device share

Now in today’s world, Microsoft has a small chunk of the overall device market share, even though Windows is still the most popular desktop operating system. This means that Apple and Google have overtaken Microsoft as the major players in the mobile market space. While this may seem bad for Microsoft initially, it may be good thing. This means Microsoft can act more freely and deliver more to their customers. This type of behavior is already beginning to come to light with Windows 10. Microsoft has already begun adding more video codecs to Windows which means users will be able to consume more video and audio files without needing to use third party software. Microsoft also teased it would be adding FLAC support to Windows 10 natively.

This marks a turning point where Microsoft begins to act their market share. The only unknown is how the courts will react to this robust Microsoft. Will they realize that Microsoft is behind Apple and Google in the mobile space and allow them to begin behaving like their competitors? Or will the courts come down on Microsoft for being anti-competitive and ‘stiffening competition’ like in the 90s? As late as 2012, a court upheld a fine of $860 million for not complying with previous rulings, so Microsoft may approach the EU with more caution.

The Browser Ballot Box in the EU

Today, Microsoft is forced to provide a browser ballot which users can choose which web browser to use when they first try to access the internet. Also in the EU, Microsoft is required to sell copies of Windows without Windows Media Player. In the US, there were fewer restrictions but Microsoft was required to show their source code to an auditor who would verify they are giving proper APIs to developers and enabling them to write programs which can compete with Microsoft first party programs, chiefly IE and Windows Media Player.

However, while it may be nice for Microsoft to not be restricted in the same way it has been, the real change needs to happen at Microsoft. No longer being the biggest name in technology means it has to attract talented developers to write for Windows instead of just assuming they will come. Microsoft also has an uphill battle against consumer sentiment about legacy software and now Windows 8’s modern environment which has garnered a mixed reaction. Consumers associate Windows with viruses, crashes, the blue screen of death, and complexity. Microsoft is trying to frame themselves as a company which responds to their consumers’ feedback and makes their products modern and compatible with the past, which is a tough line to walk.

Universal Apps need to be the best apps

If Microsoft begins to unify their apps and platform, Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox could become a wonderful ecosystem. Building powerful and beautiful first party apps needs to be a top priority for Microsoft. The core apps across device type need to be on par or better than similar apps developed by Apple and Google. Skype, Xbox Music and Video, photos, IE, OneDrive, Office, and Email need to be extremely well made and feel natural on all devices. Microsoft needs to begin competing as if it was losing the race, but will the EU see it the same way?