Microsoft's Steve Ballmer spoke at the annual Churchill Club dinner last night and said some very interesting things about the way Apple, Microsoft and Google make devices. No surprise, but he thinks Apple's method of creating end-to-end computers and a mobile phone experience is the wrong way to do things. He did, however, have nice things to say about Google and their Android philosophy, if only because it's the same as Microsoft's Windows Mobile plan.
Ballmer's point was that Microsoft loves freedom. They love being able to have Windows and Windows mobile be run on as many hardware providers as possible because they're decoupled and built separately. That's a great philosophy for running a company...except, what about the Zune and the Xbox?
That's right, they're closed. The Xbox definitely makes sense to be closed. It's a console, after all, and what's the point of having a console that has different hardware specs? It would be a nightmare for game developers to code for all those different...wait...it would be a PC. Totally opposite of the plug-and-play experience console players are used to. But how about the Zune?
The Zune, on the other hand, was the child of a not-so-successful PlaysForSure Windows Media DRM strategy that let many different portable music player manufacturers take advantage of Microsoft technology to make their own iPod competitor. It failed to take any real noticeable marketshare away from Apple. Microsoft then did the smart thing, which is to push PlaysForSure into the background like the ugly kid in a class picture, and created their own Zune Marketplace end-to-end ecosystem.
As for Windows and Windows Mobile? We don't see Windows closing up and Microsoft making their own hardware+software solution anytime soon. Windows has been open too long and the marketshare is too large for Microsoft to be able to service all those customers with its own hardware solution. But Windows Mobile, on the other hand, might just become a very closed experience soon.
Remember the T-Mobile Sidekick maker Danger that Microsoft acquired earlier this year? It's very likely Microsoft wants these people onboard to help them either create an end-to-end hardware solution for Windows Mobile, or a completely new Zunephone experience with hardware, software and services direct from Microsoft.
So yes, Microsoft is all about being open, except when it can safely close down and control whatever ecosystem they're currently in. Is it a good thing? Perhaps. Think about the possibility of a Microsoft PC. You wouldn't have driver conflicts or upgrade incompatibilities. Programming and debugging the next version of Windows would be much simpler, because Microsoft could control which pieces of hardware works best with their software. They could spend far less time making sure Windows was compatible with thousands and thousands of peripherals and more time making sure Windows was good. Wouldn't you want that?