Bill Gates reveals ‘biggest mistake ever': Microsoft co-founder on 'mismanagement'

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has revealed what he thinks was the company’s ‘greatest mistake ever’ - and it wasn’t the irritating ‘Clippy’ character from Word.

The tech mogul and billionaire philanthropist said his ‘mismanagement’ led to the rise of Google’s Android to become the world’s biggest computing platform.

Speaking on stage at a Village Global event in the US, Mr Gates said 'in the software world, in particular for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets'.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 24:  Microsoft principle founder Bill Gates participates in a discussion during a luncheon of the Economic Club of Washington June 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Gates discussed various topics including climate change.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Microsoft founder Bill Gates participates in a discussion during a luncheon of the Economic Club of Washington (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

'The greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is,' he said.

'That is, Android is the standard phone platform - non-Apple - phone platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win.

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'It really is winner-take-all. If you're there with half as many apps or 90% as many apps you're on your way to complete doom - there is room for exactly one non-Apple operating system and what's that worth? 400 billion? That would be transferred from company G to company M.'

But despite 'having made one of the greatest mistakes of all time', Mr Gates said Microsoft was still 'very strong'.

Windows Phone
The home screen of a phone running the Windows Phone 8.1 operating system. (AP Photo)

'We are a leading company,' he said. 'If we had gotten that one right, we would be the leading company, but oh well.'

Many had assumed that Microsoft’s failure in the mobile market was the fault of Steve Ballmer, who took over as CEO when Mr Gates stepped down to become chief software architect in 2000.

Mr Ballmer famously laughed off the iPhone as the ‘most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard.’ He did not see the touchscreen era coming, in one of Microsoft’s first major mobile errors.

Bill Gates and his wife Melinda
The 63-year-old with wife Melinda at the Indian Wells tennis tournament in California in March. (John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


The rise and fall of Microsoft

1975 - Bill Gates, 19, drops out of Harvard and founds Microsoft with childhood friend Paul Allen.

1981 - The firm releases operating software Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) and begins running on IBM personal computers.

1983 - Microsoft announces its new software Windows.

1995 - Microsoft introduces web browser Internet Explorer.

2000 - Steve Ballmer succeeds Gates as CEO.

2001 - Microsoft enters a new market with the release of its Xbox gaming console.

2007 - Microsoft unveils the widely panned Windows Vista.

2009 - Microsoft introduces Bing to counter Google’s dominance in search and advertising. It remains a distant runner-up today.

2012 - Microsoft launches Surface tablets and a Windows 8 operating system with touch commands. They have not gained much share in the crowded tablet market.

2014 - Microsoft’s board picks Nadella, 46, an Indian-born executive who led the creation of the firm’s “cloud” computing services, as the third CEO in 39 years.


Google's Android on a Huawei phone
Mr Gates said he had allowed Google's Android to win the 'non-Apple' share of the mobile phone market. (Reuters/Marko Djurica/Illustration)

Microsoft’s mobile operating system - Windows Mobile - failed to catch on despite a reboot as Windows Phone.

The company spent months arguing internally over whether it should scrap Windows Mobile, which was not touchscreen and leaned on stylus devices, before ditching it in December 2008 and rebooting its mobile efforts with Windows Phone, which launched in 2010.

In October 2017, Microsoft announced it was ending production of Windows 10 Mobile because of a lack of interest. In January, the company said that support for the software would end in December this year.

Mr Gates stepped down as chief software architect in July 2008, carrying on as chairman until Satya Nadella took over from Ballmer as CEO in 2014.

Google's Android is installed on just more than 75 per cent of mobile devices, according to figures from Statcounter published in May, while Microsoft has just a 0.24 per cent share of the same market.

Google acquired Android in 2005 for around $US50 million (£40 million), launching the first commercial Android-powered phone - the HTC Dream - in 2008.

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt revealed in 2012 that the tech giant’s initial focus was beating Microsoft’s early Windows Mobile efforts. “At the time we were very concerned that Microsoft’s mobile strategy would be successful,” he said.

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