No, I'm not referring to the latest and greatest Microsoft Surface announced yesterday. No doubt, its announcement has once again showed Microsoft is at its best when it's the second mover, when it has an opponent to imitate. But this is not what I'm going to talk about in this post. What I want to talk about is something more subtle but fundamental to Microsoft's business model.
But a strategic decision made by Apple five years ago -- and to a less extent, by Google -- has neuralised this threat to some extent.
When Apple released its first iPhone/iPad, it made the decision not to make iOS a pure HTML5-based platform. Instead, in order to develop an application on iOS and take full advantage of the underlying hardware, a developer needs to develop the application on the top of Apple's proprietary Cocoa Touch platform, not HTML5. There are practical reasons for such decision: on a device with limited computing power, maintaining adequate performance is important. However, its true strategic objective is control and lock-in. Apple wants to lock you in on its iOS/Cocoa Touch platform as much as
Microsoft wants to lock you in on its Windows/Win32 API platform. When you are the dominant player, you want everything proprietary, everything based on your proprietary platforms. Only when you are the marginalised player, you want everyone to adapt open standards. In a similar fashion, Google has also gone down the same path with Android.
However, I would argue that this supposedly self-serving decision has actually benefited Microsoft. If other dominant players had fully embraced HTML5, Microsoft would have had no choice but to embrace it. Then, no one could lock anyone in. But now, because everyone goes proprietary, the playing field is now leveled in a way that both developers and users
won't demand true portability. This in turns has validated Microsoft's "proprietariness". Windows can now compete on an equal footing with iOS and Android for developers.
Actually, if you look at an even bigger picture, the sad truth is Apple's decision has pushed back the advance of system openness by a whole decade.
(Disclosure: Long MSFT)