By Paul Gorski
Yes, that headline is a question: Is Microsoft preparing to offer free versions of Window Phone and Windows RT mobile operating systems to smartphone manufacturers? A recent report by The Verge states that “Microsoft is considering making Windows Phone and Windows RT available free of charge to device makers” in an effort to better compete with Google’s Android OS in mobile device markets (http://www.theverge.com/2013/12/11/5199446/microsoft-considers-free-versions-windows-phone-windows-rt).
There may be some truth here, as Microsoft bought the smartphone manufacturer Nokia this year, and Nokia is the largest distributor of Windows Phone devices. It really doesn’t make sense to buy your own software from yourself. More about the Nokia purchase in “Tech-Friendly: Microsoft to buy Nokia handsets; Verizon, Vodaphone agree on $130 billion deal,” Sept. 4-10, 2013 issue (http://rockrivertimes.com/commentary/2013/09/04/tech-friendly-microsoft-to-buy-nokia-handsets-verizon-vodaphone-agree-on-130-billion-deal/).
I suspect that if Microsoft does offer some or all its mobile operating systems free, it will make up for the lost revenue via advertising or subscriptions to Microsoft services.
However, the mobile OS market is in flux now, with rumors of Google “ditching” Android, possibly for Chrome OS (“Google appears ready to ditch Android over its intellectual property issues” (http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/07/29/google-appears-ready-to-ditch-android-over-its-intellectual-property-issues). And the Mozilla group is promoting Firefox OS as an alternative to Android (http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/partners/).
Not to be outdone, other players are threatening to compete directly with Android, too, as noted at: http://www.techhive.com/article/2031515/four-alternatives-to-android-ios-and-windows-phone.html.
Despite these other emerging threats, Microsoft may be its own worst enemy. The public backlash and disapproval of Windows 8 desktop OS distracts users from the fact that Windows Phone is actually a good mobile OS. While the touch-screen interface on desktop and laptop computers may not impress some people, it works well on mobile devices. So, what is Microsoft to do?
Microsoft’s public relations machine will need to work overtime to persuade smartphone manufacturers to ship devices with Windows Phone, even if Microsoft gives the OS away for free. Manufacturers won’t install an OS on a phone if it will hurt sales, not when they could go with a standard like Android.
I’d like to hear from Windows Phone and Windows RT users; share your experiences and opinions online, or send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
Paul Gorski (www.paulgorski.com) has been a technology manager nearly 20 years, specializing in workflow solutions for printing, publishing and advertising computer users. Originally destined to be a chemist, his interest in computers began in college when he wrote a program to analyze data from lab instruments he hard-wired to the back of an Apple Iie.
From the Dec. 18-24, 2013, issue