Free Windows leaps to IoT: OS battle takes new angle
Of course, Microsoft who is currently lagging behind in the smartphone and tablet market is trying to maintain a foothold in the rapidly evolving portable device landscape.
Offering its OS free of charge to smartphone and tablet makers was certainly not an easy step forward for the software giant whose recipe for success was licenced software and OS licence fees collected from computer manufacturers.
In the smartphone market, IDC’s last Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker for the year 2013 gives Android an astounding 78% market share, with iOS second at 17.6%, and only 3% for Window Phone. What’s more, the research firm observed that Android was on 95.7% of all smartphones shipped in the fourth quarter of 2013.
Yet, Microsoft still has an overwhelming OS market share for desktop computers (over 85% across its various Windows versions against less than 7% for Mac OS) which explains the screen size differentiation in its new strategy.
More importantly, devices with small screen sizes include a lot of wearable gadgets that connect to the web. Terry Myerson, who heads the operating systems division in Microsoft, reportedly said that Windows will be free for Internet of Things devices, which could give another chance for Windows to play against its rivals in a nascent market.
Only a year ago, Microsoft was fined 561m euros ($731m) for exclusively running Internet Explorer on Windows-enabled computers. In a world of free OS, could the company bite back at other OS providers and device makers for not giving the choice of OS to end-users?
Since user-generated data is where the real battle is (think profiling and personalized contextual advertising), you could argue that each individual OS will make better use of internet surfing data and search results when combined with a browser from the same source.
Nowadays, the end consumer can only choose among apps written for the OS that is deeply entrenched into their hardware. And by definition, native applications better exploit the hardware when the OS is given full access to the hardware’s internals. This comes at the cost of porting apps to different OS platforms and maintaining updates for all branching device categories.
And this is where web applications (think thin client) could compete, always up to date (no patch downloads) and indifferent to which OS you run on your smartphone. In the future, web applications could push for more openness, more OS cooperation, if only they were given more access to the hardware. The clear limiting factor here is the huge commercial interest behind today’s well-established app-stores.
On the browser data front, one way Microsoft is biting back is with the Rockstar Bidco patent lawsuit against Google and seven companies that make Android smartphones, namely Asustek, HTC, Huawei, LG Electronics, Pantech, Samsung, and ZTE.
Rockstar Bidco was set up by Microsoft, Apple, RIM, Ericsson, and Sony to acquire and defend a whole bunch of patents relating to 4G wireless innovations when Canada-based telecom Nortel went bankrupt and sold its 6,000+ patents portfolio at an auction in 2011. At the time, Google was also a bidder but could not align on Rockstar Bidco’s outrageous $4.5 billion bid.
The lawsuit launched in November last year involves six patents relating to associative search engines and matching search terms and user-generated data with relevant advertising.
It is not clear yet what sort of compensation and licensing arrangements Microsoft and Apple would settle with, but this law-suit has the potential to weaken Google’s entire business model. Some of the patents infringed were filed even before Google was created, and Google’s multiple bids during the auction (starting at 900 million dollars) hint that the company was well aware of their importance.
Who knows how Google could evolve to circumvent these patent infringement claims and how this could impact the way personal data will be processed in the future?