Bill Gates Reveals His “Greatest Mistake Ever”

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Microsoft has made plenty of mistakes over the years, but none greater than fudging its mobile strategy. This isn’t my opinion, but the opinion of Bill Gates, founder and former CEO and chairman of Microsoft. In other words, the person that should know.

How Microsoft Let Android Win

Gates revealed his “greatest mistake ever” in an interview with venture capital firm Village Global. After being asked about his attitude to work/life balance, Gates opens up about how Microsoft missed the boat on the emerging mobile market, letting Android dominate.

He said:

“In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is.”

“That is, Android is the standard phone platform; non-Apple phone platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win. And it really is winner take all.”

“If you’re there with half as many apps or 90 percent as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system and what’s that worth? $400 billion that would, you know, be transferred from company G to company M.”

There WAS room for three mobile operating systems, but Microsoft never recovered from that initial mistake. The company is now doing well under Satya Nadella, but as we all use our smartphones more and more, Microsoft’s mistake gets costlier every year.

Isn’t Steve Ballmer Really to Blame?

Some are wondering why Gates is claiming personal responsibility for Microsoft’s failed mobile strategy. After all, Gates stepped down as CEO in 2000, years before iOS and Android battled for supremacy while Windows Mobile failed to gain traction.

Steve Ballmer was in charge of Microsoft at the time this was playing out, and he famously laughed at the iPhone for being overpriced and unattractive to businesses. So perhaps Gates actually regrets stepping down and handing Ballmer the reins when he did.

Microsoft Admits Defeat on Mobile

Gates shouldn’t be too hard on himself. He founded a company that has dominated the technology industry for decades, and made him richer than some countries. Still, with the end of Windows 10 Mobile, Gates is clearly reflecting on a genuine misstep.

Image Credit: Herkko Hietanen/Flickr

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