Microsoft, Nokia, and the hole in the wall

Staff Writer on

This article appeared in the March, 2011 issue of CRN magazine.

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Microsoft, Nokia, and the hole in the wall
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In the classic film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the titular heroes step over the line one too many times robbing the trains of the Union Pacific Railroad and its owner, E.H. Harriman. Harriman hires a “super posse” of famous lawmen to hunt down Butch and Sundance dead or alive.

I couldn’t help thinking about that film while reading about Nokia’s pact with Microsoft to base future Nokia smartphones on Windows Phone 7. Like the titular heroes of the film, Nokia and Microsoft were both simultaneously feared and loved when they ruled as masters of their industries. And like Butch and Sundance, both ticked off E.H. Harriman one too many times.

For the purposes of this analogy, picture Microsoft as Sundance and Nokia as Butch. The “super posse” is Apple and its iOS platform of iPhones and iPads, pursuing the gang relentlessly into the hills.

Eventually the two are pinned down in an exposed area at the top of a ravine overlooking a river far below. Butch recognises their peril and readies to shoot it out while Sundance, always thinking, suggests they jump into the river. Butch refuses to comply, revealing that he can’t swim. Sundance laughs at this: “Are you crazy,” he says, “the fall’s gonna kill you.”

They tie their arms together and jump, both recognising this is the only chance they have, and Butch in particular hoping Sundance will stop him drowning.

Similarly, Nokia admitted last year that it couldn’t swim when it hired Stephen Elop to come over from Microsoft and be its CEO. It recognised even then that Symbian was never going to be a dominant – or even competitive – smartphone platform, and what’s more it didn’t have the skills in-house to do anything about it. Perhaps, it thought, Microsoft did?


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