Microsoft poisons its partners

First, Surface wrecks any plans Microsoft's PC partners might have had for tablets; now, Windows Phone 8 ruins existing sales for Microsoft's phone partners. Welcome to the future of Microsoft "partnerships."
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The real red alert is for all of Microsoft's betrayed hardware partners.

The real red alert is for all of Microsoft's hardware partners.

With friends like Microsoft, who needs enemies?

First, Microsoft announces a vaporware tablet, Surface. On paper Surface is much better than anything its partners were building. Now, Microsoft has announced Windows Phone 8, a smartphone operating system that instantly makes every existing Windows Phone obsolete.

On behalf of ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Nokia, thanks for nothing Microsoft!

In the days since Microsoft announced its hybrid tablet/laptop I've talked to most of the major PC original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). None of them would go on the record with me on their reaction to the Surface. What I can tell you though is that every last one of them is as angry at Microsoft as a Boston Red Sox fan is at the New York Yankees after being swept at home.

Most of them, with reluctance, had decided that they were going to ship Windows 8 tablets. A few were going to try Windows RT tablets. Now, the OEMs must throw all their tablet plans out the window. With the Surface announcement, Microsoft has done to them exactly what Microsoft used to do all the time to its enemies: frozen the market by announcing something that sounds much better than what the OEMs had been planning on shipping.

Think about it. Let's say you really want a Windows 8 or RT tablet. I actually don't think between Apple's iPad and the various Android tablets that there are that many people who do, but there must be some people out there who want one.

Now, would you buy say a Dell tablet that would have been pretty much like every other tablet except that it runs Windows 8 or would you hold off until you could buy a Surface? Exactly. You're going to buy a Surface. At the most, you'll wait until the big name OEMs have something that looks like a Surface.

The problem is the OEMs don't have anything like that in hand. They've tried combination laptops/tablets before. They've all been flops. See for yourself:

A rogues' gallery of Windows tablets (pictures)

So, their plans had been to build conventional tablets. Of course, Surface may crash and burn too, but at least Surface aims high. It's just too bad that Microsoft neglected to tell any of its hardware partners of the last few decades about it.

As ticked off as the PC OEMs are though it can't be anything like how Microsoft's few smartphone partners are feeling. Every Windows smartphone in existence has just become yesterday's news. Even if you just bought a Nokia Lumia 900, the one bright spot in Windows Phone darkness, you can't update it.

Microsoft has just pulled an Osborne on every one of its mobile device partners. Osborne? That was an extremely popular early PC maker. They made the first portable (well luggable really) PC, the Osborne 1, in 1981.

Then, in 1983, Osborne made the fatal mistake of announcing its great new PC, the Osborne Executive, months before it was ready to ship. Suddenly everyone stopped buying the Osborne 1 because they were waiting for the great, new PC. The company went bankrupt before the end of the year.

Osborne effects: Death by pre-announcement

Windows Phone 8? Just like Osborne, Microsoft hasn't announced a hard shipping date. We expect it will be out at the time as Windows 8, which we think will be by October 2012.

So what the heck, for example, is Nokia to do for the next two quarters? Nokia, which has tied its future to Microsoft, is (or was) the Windows Phone's biggest backer. Even before the Windows Phone 8 news the Finnish company looked like it was dying. Only last week CEO Stephen Elop, and former Microsoft big-shot, had said that Nokia would double down on the Lumia line. Elop looks like a total prat now.

So what next? It looks to me like Nokia's only hope for survival is if Microsoft buys the company. If they don't, Nokia may not make it past the end of the year.

What should Microsoft's other spurned hardware partners do? I have a couple of suggestions: Talk to Google about Android and Chrome OS and Canonical about Ubuntu Linux. For your company's lifetime, you've stuck with Microsoft. Now, Microsoft isn't just abandoning you, it's poisoning you. It's time to move on.

Related Stories:

Editorial standards