When Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) agreed to pay Nokia (NYSE: NOK) billions to back its fledgling mobile operating system, it was easy to wonder what Mr. Softy was going to get for its money.

Finland's Nokia is the world's largest handset manufacturer, but the booming popularity of Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) iOS and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android were rendering the company irrelevant with every passing quarter.

Nokia obviously can't crank out iPhones, and it was apparently too proud to put too much weight behind the Android movement. The Symbian smartphone platform that Nokia was championing was big but was fading fast. Nokia decided to take Microsoft's money over riding Symbian into the ground, and now we're starting to see the fruit of that monetary harvest.

Nokia is showing off the Lumia 900 this week. Regardless of if it's a hit, the Windows Phone-powered Nokia handsets will continue to trickle in -- and it's going to be a deluge.

Morgan Stanley now expects 37 million Nokia-Microsoft phones to ship this year, followed by 64 million more handsets in 2013. We're talking about more than 100 million Windows Phone smartphones hitting wireless carriers within these two years, if Morgan Stanley's on target.

That's huge when you consider that just 1.7 million Microsoft handsets hit the market during last year's third quarter, according to trend tracker Gartner. Nokia's push won't get it up to Android or iOS levels, but it won't be long before Microsoft overtakes a fading Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) and the Symbian zombie for the bronze.

Let's revisit Gartner's data for the third quarter.

Operating System

Q3 Handsets

Q3 2011 Share

Q3 2010 Share


60.5 million




19.5 million




17.3 million




12.7 million




2.5 million




1.7 million



Source: Gartner.

Flooding the market with product doesn't mean that folks will be buying, but Microsoft's made too big a wager to go down without a fight. If there's a glut of phones, carriers will just cash in by practically giving them away in exchange for two-year contracts.

One way or another, things will get interesting once the platform is in the hands of the masses. Developers will drum up app support. Windows may actually be cool again on some level.

It's just a little light rain out at the moment, but Microsoft's storm is coming.

After years of bashing Microsoft, I'm changing my tune. I entered a bullish CAPScall on Microsoft in Motley Fool CAPS this week, reversing my earlier bearish pick. If you haven't read about the two words giving Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer fits, it's a free report, so you as may well check it out now.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.