4 ways Windows Phone could win

September 27, 2012: 1:43 PM ET

Will Microsoft's attempt to catch up to Apple and Google succeed? Not likely. If it wants to have any hope of being a strong third, here is what it must do.

By Don Sears, contributor

FORTUNE -- Last month, Windows Phone 8 launched with Nokia Lumia 920 devices. More recently, HTC launched its own Windows 8 Phone line to be available around the official Windows 8 product launch in late October. These brightly colored devices are standard smartphone fare: slim, lightweight, Gorilla glass, 8 MP cameras, 4G LTE, dual Qualcomm Snapdragon chips, etc.

But let's be frank, Microsoft (MSFT) has little chance of becoming the number one mobile operating system. To do that, it would have to displace Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG), a task far beyond Hercules. At nearly 4% market share, Microsoft is facing the steepest vertical climb of its life. Google has over 50% and Apple over 30%.

MORE: The iPhone 5's overlooked killer feature

But that won't stop Microsoft from playing to its software and business-to-business strengths. According to ComScore and IDC, Microsoft is squarely in fourth place behind troubled Blackberry-maker RIM (RIMM) but has seen its numbers grow in the last year -- mostly outside the U.S. Still, Microsoft is a unique position to play for third place -- a position that should be enough to keep its operating system dominance in the workplace, and with time, give more acceptance to Windows 8 as a mobile OS for average consumers.

So what can Microsoft do in the meantime? Here are four key ways Microsoft could play its position:

Large contracts with Fortune 1000 companies
Also know as "keep doing what you are good at." Also also known as, Windows in the workplace. Disrupting consumer habits is easier for Google and Apple than disrupting Windows servers, desktops and management software and people trained to use those systems for their livelihood. Analysts talk up this idea of the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to work, but the reality is that for major corporations with global reach, managing the smartphone flavor of the month is still incredibly challenging. Most CIOs and CTOs care little what you want to use and more about what they have to protect: company data and their budgets.nWith Windows 8 on the desktop, and upcoming the Surface tablet hybrid, it could be easier for CIOs to see the cost benefit of Windows across devices. .

Foster an enterprise apps economy
Selling Microsoft software is the priority, but allowing key mobile apps that work across a Windows OS environment could up the ante for Windows adoption. Some software will simply be too challenging to condense in to an app, but functional extensions of complex software as apps make sense, especially when better integrated with email and other internal systems. A more seamless experience across devices would be welcome, as are devices designed more specifically for business users. Microsoft's forthcoming Surface tablet-laptop hybrid could be that device.

MORE: The RIM video that will make you squirm

Become master retailers
You may not have noticed, but Microsoft does have over 20 retail locations in the U.S. and Canada right now. It is opening more this year, including 32 pop-up locations for the holiday season. With its hugely successful Xbox gaming console and the new Surface tablet coming out, getting consumers to buy its gear has never been more important.

Change CEOs and get the stock moving
The most radical and unlikely option. One way to help Microsoft's perception as a technology dinosaur is to make a change-up top. It's not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Ballmer steps out of the role and the company hires or promotes a new visionary with mobile in the forefront as its leader. Rebooting Windows future management may help Microsoft's stock price in the short-term and could help its brand for the long haul.

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