Microsoft Exec Predicts Linux Mobile Shrinkage

In a meeting with financial analysts last week, Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division, was asked how many smartphone platforms the market will ultimately be able to support, given the established positions that iPhone, Blackberry, and Android have already carved out.

And that's where it got interesting. "I think everybody would say there are too many operating systems in the mobile world today," Bach responded. In particular, the 17 versions of Linux found in current feature phones create operational and support headaches for carriers, Bach said.

"I certainly think in the feature phone space you'll see some pruning of the Linux tree, and I don't think that's really sustainable," Bach told analysts.

Mainly found in emerging markets, feature phones are devices that don't offer the full Web-enabled experience of the Blackberry and iPhone but are still capable of running some applications. The sheer volume of these devices, combined with the differences between Linux versions they run, could prompt carriers to gravitate toward higher quality operating system alternatives, Bach predicted.

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"I think some of the current systems will fall away," Bach told analysts. "I don't think that will be because there's not room for another operating system. I think it's because their quality bar won't stack up. And they won't get the scale that they need. "

Bach was also asked for details on when Microsoft might release Windows Mobile 7, which has been repeatedly delayed and which is believed to contain functionality that could at least get Microsoft back into the suburbs of mobile industry competitiveness.

Bach deftly avoided mention Windows Mobile 7 by name, but hinted that he had seen it, and that it was "something that feels, looks, acts and performs completely different."

Microsoft may decide to unveil Windows Mobile 7 at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain next month, and it may end up being a game changing release that shuts up the critics. But if Linux is facing some tree pruning in the mobile space, then Windows Mobile may be headed for the wood chipper.