On the path to great success comes even greater failures. Bill Gates, one of the undoubted success stories of the 20th century, has plenty to crow about. His vision led a few developers in a garage to a multi-billion dollar, international conglomerate. It also failed in a few critical areas. Gates might cite his lack of foreign language skills as his biggest regret, but from a business standpoint, there is plenty to frown about. As monumental as Microsoft has become, it could be the undoubted leader of technology today, but for a few missed opportunities and misjudgments, names like Google and Apple might never have hit the consumer market as go-to products.

Control-Alt-Delete Accessibility Error

One error Gates absolutely admits is the use of a three key combo for PC functions. When he was part of the development of the first windows, the use of a lock sequence was necessary, but a single button function would be much more accessible to users with mobility challenges. Why use three keys where one will do? IBM wanted it, but it is definitely one of those decisions that impacts productivity and accessibility on a daily basis. Is this issue a major market crusher? No, but it does illustrate a lack of foresight that has plagued Microsoft for decades.

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Ignoring Public Policy

There may be a clear demarcation between public and private business, but the line moves on a regular basis. When Windows started bundling software products and became the dominant name in PC operating systems, it raised concerns around the globe, ultimately leading to an antitrust suit filed in 1998. Were Microsoft’s practices predatory? Maybe, though Microsoft did manage to avoid the breakup being pushed by government agencies in the wake of the antitrust lawsuit. Unfortunately, the result of the antitrust suit forced Microsoft to offer interoperability and seemed to take a fast moving company at the forefront of development and turn it into a cautious and careful operation, without the innovation and vision needed to stay at the leading edge. Ignoring the PR piece during the earlier years of Microsoft cost the company billions during antitrust negotiations.

Browser War Regrets

Going to war with the Netscape internet browser was a major misstep from Microsoft with Gates at the helm. Not only did it lead to the above mentioned antitrust suit, it also focused attention in entirely the wrong direction. Browsers didn’t generate revenue, search did. Going to war about the interface people used didn’t make sense from a business perspective, but for a company founded on software, it seemed the logical next step. Enter Google with faster indexing and search. What Windows did for PC, Google did for the internet. Google made the internet usable and accessible to the masses. Microsoft had the opportunity to be the leader in internet technologies but instead spent the time and resources fighting over the browser experience, not the total user experience.

Failing to Move Mobile

The desktop PC market, where Microsoft was an undisputed leader, took the company to the top, but the mountain keeps growing. Computers got smaller and portable, but the Windows OS just got bigger and more bloated. It didn’t translate well to a mobile experience, and Microsoft didn’t make the transition to mobile early enough. When the company did finally try to capture some of the mobile market, it used a clunky interface that might have felt intuitive on a desktop, but didn’t work well on a touch screen. Today, Android and iOS rule the mobile market, with Windows a quickly forgotten and minuscule third. That third place finish is unlikely to change. The reality of tech markets today is first and best to market wins.

Funding the Competition

At the same time Microsoft was gearing up to fight the antitrust suit that would cloud company operations for more than two decades, it was also making some PR plays. In a bid to show Microsoft as a helping hand to the technology industry, Gates offered failing Apple a big bailout in the form of $150 million stock buy with no voting options and a three-year holding period. Apple obtained the funding it needed, at the exact right time, and turned around to become a company that dwarfs the shrinking technology giant. Innovation put Apple at the top of the tech market, along with a hefty cash infusion from a direct competitor.

Migrating to the Cloud, Late

A continuing theme with Microsoft product development seems to be getting to the market just in time to see competitors establish big market share. While Microsoft did eventually introduce cloud computing as part of their packages, it took more time and left them cleaning up after major players, like Amazon and Google, had already established the benefits. SaaS, cloud computing, project management and other communications platforms were not a priority at Microsoft, and with a diminishing PC market, the company must find new niches and ways to deliver the consistent and efficiency-improving products of the past.

Bad Decisions Breed Monumental Success

Even with a slew of errors, missteps, misjudgments and mistakes, Bill Gates has made even more solid choices. Results are hard to argue with, and revenue of $93.6 billion shows plenty of results. For every bad decision, Gates made a dozen good ones. Learn from his mistakes and follow in the footsteps of his success. Prioritize innovation, never ignore PR and always look to the future. Success doesn’t teach many lessons; failure does.

P.S.
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141113 Gates bij Koenders 5824 by Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken is licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike License

Isabelle Daigle
Isabelle Daigle

Isabelle Daigle runs all content marketing for Hello Focus. She's an avid writer and loves long Netflix binge sessions!