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According to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, we’d all be using Windows-based smartphones if not for the US government’s antitrust case against the software giant two decades ago.
“There’s no doubt that the antitrust lawsuit was bad for Microsoft and we would have been more focused on creating the phone operating system,” Gates said in a talk at The New York Times DealBook conference on Wednesday.
“So instead of using Android today, you’d be using Windows Mobile,” he added.
According to Gates, Microsoft basically had its hands full with the Justice Department’s anti-monopoly lawsuit, which was filed in 1998 over the company’s practice of bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. The case initially led a US judge to order the breakup of Microsoft only for the ruling to be overturned for a lesser penalty that merely forced the company to open access to its software APIs.
“Oh, we were so close. I was just too distracted. I screwed that up because of the distraction,” said Gates, who added the antitrust battle also caused him to retire sooner than he original planned. In 2000, Gates stepped down as Microsoft’s CEO, handing over the reins to Steve Ballmer.
How Microsoft would’ve beat Google’s Android operating system without the antitrust “distraction” wasn’t clearly laid out. But Gates said: “We were just three months too late for a (Windows Mobile) release Motorola would’ve used on a phone.”
Google probably won’t agree with Gates’ take. But the company was able to handily beat Microsoft’s attempts at popularizing what became Windows Phone, a mobile OS that struggled to take off against Android and Apple’s iOS. By 2016, shipments for Windows Phone devices had fallen below 1 percent for all smartphone sales.
Next month, Microsoft will officially plug the plug on support for Windows Phone. The company’s current CEO, Satya Nadella, has instead shifted gears to making Windows products available over Android and iOS. Last month, Redmond even unveiled an Android-powered pocketable device, the Surface Duo.
“Now nobody here has even heard of Windows Mobile, but oh well,” Gates said in the interview. “That’s a few hundred billion here or there.”
The Microsoft-co founder made the remarks when he was asked his views on the current antitrust investigations facing Google and Facebook over their dominance of the internet. Gates acknowledged he was “super biased” on the issue and believes the government’s antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft did nothing to make the tech sector more competitive.
“I didn’t think Microsoft should be broken up, I argued against it, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” he said. Nevertheless, Gates said it was worth regulators examining whether internet companies have been attempting to “lock” their users into their own platforms, preventing easy access to share data to rival services.
Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to note the Surface Duo is the Android-powered device Microsoft unveiled last month, not the Surface Neo.