Bill Gates says people would be using Windows Mobile if not for the Microsoft antitrust case

Key Points
  • Bill Gates said that the U.S. government's antitrust case against Microsoft was a distraction.
  • The Microsoft co-founder said he doesn't wish a government push for a corporate breakup on anyone.
Bill Gates: If antitrust case hadn't happened, Microsoft would have built a phone operating system
Bill Gates: If not for antitrust case, Microsoft would have built a phone OS

Bill Gates said on Wednesday suggested that Windows could have been the world's dominant mobile operating system had it not been for the antitrust case the U.S. Justice Department brought against Microsoft.

"There's no doubt the antitrust lawsuit was bad for Microsoft, and we would have been more focused on creating the phone operating system, and so instead of using Android today, you would be using Windows Mobile if it hadn't been for the antitrust case," Gates, a Microsoft co-founder and board member, said at the New York Times' DealBook conference in New York.

The comments from Gates provide an alternate reality -- instead, Microsoft remains dominant with Windows on desktop PCs and in other categories like commercial productivity software, but no longer works on Windows for phones. Alphabet's Google has the most popular mobile operating system, with Apple's iPhone in second place.

Gates' comments also suggest that major antitrust cases against today's other large technology companies could have negative market implications.

In the third quarter Facebook became the subject of antitrust investigations and inquiries from the U.S. House of Representatives, state attorneys general and the Justice Department, and Alphabet started receiving civil demands from the Justice Department regarding earlier antitrust investigations. The Supreme Court earlier this year said Apple iPhone users could bring an antitrust case against Apple regarding App Store commissions, and in July the European Union was reported to be beginning an antitrust investigation into Amazon.

"Oh, we were so close," Gates said about the company's miss in mobile operating systems. "I was just too distracted. I screwed that up because of the distraction." He said the company was three months too late with a release Motorola would have used on a phone.

Earlier this year Gates said that his biggest mistake at Microsoft was not having Windows become the dominant mobile operating system.

"Now nobody here has ever heard of Windows Mobile. But oh, well. That's a few hundred billion here or there," Gates, one of the world's richest people, told Andrew Ross Sorkin, a Times columnist and a co-anchor of CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Gates also said he would not have retired as soon had it not been for the U.S. government case, which began in 1998. Gates started the company with Paul Allen in 1975, then stepped aside as CEO in 2000, letting Steve Ballmer take the reins as the antitrust case was at its peak.

He said retiring earlier was probably good for him because he got to become more involved with his wife, Melinda, in the nonprofit Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he is a co-chair and trustee.

"I don't have a life where I'm allowed to complain, because basically only 99% of things have worked out very, very well," he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has expressed a desire to break up companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google.

"I didn't think Microsoft should be broken up, I argued against it, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone," Gates said.

Gates said he has not spoken with Warren.

"I'm not sure how open-minded she is, or that she'd even be willing to sit down with somebody who has large amounts of money," he said.

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