During a “fireside chat” with the venture capital firm Village Global, Bill Gates got extremely candid about what he considers his “greatest mistake ever” while running Microsoft.
Apparently, Gates regrets letting Google become the dominant non-Apple mobile operating system. He explained that, at the time, the market had room for just one Apple alternative, and Microsoft should have been poised to produce that system. However, Gates said he engaged in “mismanagement,” that led to Microsoft not competing hard enough, and letting Google “win.”
“In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets,” Gates said. “So the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. That is, Android is the standard non-Apple phone platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win.”
“It really is winner take all,” Gates said. “If you’re there with half as many apps or 90% as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s 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.”
Gates attributed what he sees as this failure to distraction. He indicated that an antitrust lawsuit that stretched throughout the 1990s made him less focused on dominating mobile, which created an opening for Google. Google launched Android in 2008.
“It’s amazing for me to have made one of the greatest mistakes of all time, and there was this antitrust lawsuit, and there’s things that, you know, our other assets — Windows, Office — are still very strong,” Gates said. “We are a leading company. If we’d got that one right, we would be the leading company.”
But don’t feel too bad for Microsoft. In April, it became the third company with a trillion dollar value, following Apple and Amazon. That’s a position that has eluded Google, which is now facing antitrust inquiries of its own.