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Microsoft’s Plan B: Building Cross-Platform Applications And Services

February 9, 2015 - Written By David Steele

The reason why I have such an interest in mobile products is because of Microsoft. You see, in the late 1990s I bought an early Windows CE device. Windows CE is the great grandfather of Windows Phone and is Microsoft’s first embedded operating system. My device, a Philips Velo 500, was a reasonably capable device, but expensive and laborious to use compared with the Psion and Palm competitors. Windows CE became PocketPC became Windows Mobile and it remained laborious to use, if capable. Windows Phone was much easier to use but unfortunately very restrictive to use. Microsoft have failed to capture the interest of the consumer: we’re more interested in Android devices. Microsoft has tried a lot of different projects to get our attention but had to resort to buying their own manufacturer, Nokia, to avoid the embarrassment of nobody building devices for Windows Phone. The Microsoft consumer problem has been typical of the industry: customers want to do shiny pretty things on their devices, which means an app store with hundreds of thousands of shiny things to download and show off. The Windows Phone store isn’t anywhere near as populated as the Google Play Store.

Conversely, Microsoft have a significant proportion of the Enterprise market tied up, where Android is only just starting to make headway. How can Microsoft sell to consumers? That’s easy: develop applications and services that we want to use and that work on different platforms. Rather, that work on Android (and iOS). From an Android perspective, we have Microsoft Office for Android, Skype, calendar application Sunrise and now a new Outlook email application. I’m not going to say that these applications are perfect (by any stretch) but they’re “comfortably familiar” to most Windows users. Microsoft Word on Android is impressively similar to Word on Windows.

Better yet, these services are available for nothing. Yes, that’s right; a full blown word processor is available for Android and it won’t cost you anything. You’re going to ask, “what’s the catch?” and maybe you’ll also say, “I can do this using Google Docs, big deal.” Let me explain: Microsoft Word for Android is a better word processor than Google Docs. It can synchronise across your devices providing you use a cloud service that is compatible and unfortunately, it doesn’t play nice with Google Drive but it’ll work with OneDrive and Dropbox. OneDrive and Dropbox are available on Android. Sure; Microsoft want customers to buy an Office 365 or OneDrive subscription, but it’s not a completely closed system. We are able to to access our data on almost any platform we desire (but it’s true that the best service is if we stick to Microsoft’s own cloud service).

Ultimately, Microsoft’s push into cloud services and applications we want to use is also pushing the other software companies to improve their respective products. Google Drive and the companion applications are constantly being improved and this is a good thing. Microsoft aren’t going away any time soon and their influence will improve things across the industry.