Dark Days for Windows Mobile, But Not For Open Source Platforms
Things are looking increasingly bad for Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system, and they may be looking bad for Palm, too. As GigaOm notes: "Like a desperate gambler down to his last few chips, Palm is ditching Windows Mobile and going all in with its own webOS." That will leave the Pre as Palm's big bet in the smartphone arena, and the company has said that the Pre now accounts for the vast majority of the smartphones that it sells (823,000 units in the most recent quarter, in line with analyst's expectations).
What's more notable to me, though, is that as the heavily fragmented world of operating systems for smartphones begins to whittle itself down to a few competitors, players that rely either entirely or partly on open source are making the best bets.
In a recent post called "Is Google’s Android Killing Windows Mobile?" GigaOm's Om Malik noted that Windows Mobile has fallen out of favor at Motorola, as the company places big bets on the open source Android operating system. Malik's post added this:
"I feel Microsoft wasted away many years while it held the top position in the mobile handset business. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently told analysts that, 'It was a tough year on succeeding with phones, mostly our own issues, frankly'...”
Even Microsoft's CEO is not pleased with the company's mobile strategy. Of course, Android isn't the only operating system bearing down on Windows Mobile. The iPhone and RIM's Blackberry line of smartphones have very powerful and innovative operating systems, but they are proprietary. Symbian, which has half of the global smartphone market, continues to pursue very ambitious open source operating system goals. And let's not forget that the Palm Pre's WebOS is Linux-based and released as open source (though Palm does proprietary development on it).
Going forward, winning handsets are going to need be differentiated from the pack and very flexible. Open source platforms can make room for that differentiation more flexibly than proprietary ones can. Both Android and Palm's WebOS are Linux-based--a testament to how much can be done on an open source platform. I think we'll see more concentrated development going on around a smaller number of smartphone operating systems in the future, and I'm not betting on Windows Mobile to fare well as that happens.