Should Microsoft Embrace Both Android and Firefox OS?
If you turn the clock back to the days when Microsoft scrambled for maximum market share for its Internet Explorer browser, you'll remember that the company often squared off with Mozilla and its open source Firefox browser. The two companies have a history that includes some animosity. Likewise, Microsoft currently squares off with Google in a number of product categories.
But when it comes to Microsoft's entries into a couple of important product categories--including smartphones and tablets--its best advice may be to align with Mozilla and Google. It could do so by embracing both Android and Mozilla's Firefox OS.
This week, I made the point that by using technology from BlueStacks Player, or similar emulation technology, Microsoft could give users of its new Surface tablets access to the already robust ecosystem of apps for Android. This would instantly solve a problem that Microsoft has: It doesn't have the teeming app stores that both Apple and Android have after years of succeeding in the smartphone and tablet markets.
In smartphones, Microsoft is far behind Apple and players on the Android phone scene. On ReadWrite Mobile, Matt Asay makes a good case for why Microsoft might benefit from aligning with Mozilla on its open Firefox OS platform for smartphones:
"...as Samsung has shown with Android, one needn't own an OS to profit from it. Samsung's operating profit in its fourth quarter rose 89% to hit $8.3 billion. That's real money that even Apple can't sniff at."
"Why not throw [Microsoft's] weight behind Mozilla? Mozilla has taken on a huge task, one that Microsoft's engineering and financial resources can help to accelerate. And while Mozilla is unlikely to give any special favors to Microsoft in terms of distribution, the very fact of embracing and distributing Firefox OS would give Microsoft influence in the Firefox OS community. That's how open source works: being the source of code matters as much or more than owning source code."
Indeed, Microsoft's vast engineering resources and its money could give Firefox OS a huge boost, but, more importantly, Microsoft's alignment with Mozilla would send a message about the Redmond giant's newly friendly attitude toward open source and open standards. In the data center, where Microsoft is focused on virtualization, the company is already learning that it has to embrace Linux and other operating systems that it does not own.
If Microsoft were to back both Firefox OS and Android--placing promising bets in the smartphone and tablet spaces--that would represent a double-whammy on the open standards front. I'm aware that some may scoff at the likelihood of this, but Microsoft has not been a leader in important mobile tech categories, and radical moves on the open source and open standards front could change all that.