Microsoft touts a credo of “information anywhere, anytime and on any device,” but the explosion of hot wireless devices from rivals is testing the patience of customers who depend on Windows software and Web services.
Microsoft strategists claim that information that sits on Windows computers can best be seen on other Windows-compatible devices, but also are meant to be accessible on non-Microsoft gadgets, from Internet screens to mobile phones.
The world’s No. 1 software maker has repeatedly said it supports the industry’s highest standards of openness. Officials sit on technology standards-setting bodies that determine how mobile devices, digital music and instant messaging can be made to work together harmoniously, regardless of the device.
But executives and engineers at Microsoft rivals such as International Business Machines Corp. and Sun Microsystems, throw scorn on the “information anywhere” claim, and recent experiences suggest they might be right.
Take instant messaging. The Microsoft Messenger is not available on devices based on Palm software, which dominates the market for wireless handsets made by digital handheld organizers Sony (6758.T), Handspring, Samsung or Palm itself.
Microsoft’s rivals AOL and Yahoo both offer instant messaging specially designed for the Palm-powered gadgets. A Microsoft spokesman said the issue stemmed from conflicts with browser software Palm uses and was not a Microsoft issue only.
Microsoft’s decision to ignore devices that run on software from competitors would be foolish in a normal market.
Then again, the computer industry is dominated by competing empires. There’s the Microsoft camp and there’s the anything-but-Microsoft camp, with the consumer sandwiched in between. By ignoring rivals, Microsoft discourages Windows users from buying competing devices.
“Anyone in Microsoft’s position would probably try the same. It’s up to the (government) regulators to keep it in check,” says Mark Eastwood, an engineer at Handspring’s operations in Britain.
Microsoft has weathered legal challenges from regulators in the United States and Europe. It has emerged intact from a bruising late 1990’s court battle with U.S. antitrust regulators who accused it of using monopolistic business practices to crush rivals in the emerging Internet market.