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Microsoft hasn’t enjoyed the same success on smartphones and tablets as it has on desktop computers and laptops. Windows Phone is said to represent just 3.7 percent of the global smartphone market, according to IDC, which doesn’t expect the operating system to reach 10 percent marketshare until 2017. Windows, on the other hand, is near ubiquitous. IDC doesn’t even bother comparing Windows’ marketshare to Linux’s or OS X’s. The only problem: consumers are purchasing smartphones and tablets instead of desktop computers or laptops. Microsoft is the undisputed captain of a fast-sinking ship.

But what if it could use that ship to commandeer — or at least join — another one? That’s the question the company seeks to answer with new apps for Android and iOS that allow users to remotely access their Windows computers.

Pundits have been clamoring for Microsoft to bring some of its desktop prowess to mobile devices for years. The company’s products might not appeal to some, but for many consumers, Microsoft’s products are synonymous with productivity software and operating systems. Now, years after Apple, Google, and a technical menagerie of startups have been replicating its software on mobile devices, Microsoft is answering those pleas.

It started with Office. Microsoft has been said to be on the cusp of releasing the productivity suite on mobile devices for years, but those reports were proven wrong time and time again. Then it released Office for iPhone in June, followed by an Android app in July. The company had finally brought the software partly responsible for more than one-third of its revenues to one of the world’s most popular smartphones. The app isn’t as compelling as a similar app for the iPad would have been, but it’s a start.

It continues with the Remote Desktop apps Microsoft released yesterday. The apps allow Android and iOS users to access their Windows computers through their smartphone or tablet. Other apps have offered similar features for some time, but Microsoft’s willingness to effectively bring all of Windows to competitive platforms is a remarkable shift in strategy.

Microsoft has long made its money by selling its products to manufacturers and businesses. It has been slowly changing its strategy to better monetize consumers, though, with subscription services like Office 365 and SkyDrive. The best way to get people to pay a monthly fee for software is to make it available on any platform they wish to use — in this case that means making the individual services available as distinct apps while also bringing all of Windows to competitive platforms.

Google does something similar with its own services. Despite the fact that it makes the most popular mobile operating system in the world, the company has continued to release many of its services on the iPhone and Microsoft-built products. (It’s been reported that Google actually makes more money from the iPhone than it does from Android.) As I’ve written before, Google doesn’t care how you access its services — it just cares that you access them, period. Microsoft seems to be taking a similar tack.

As the old aphorism goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Making sure that its many boats (or services) are part of the mobile industry’s rising tide might help Microsoft survive even as its largest ship sinks.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for PandoDaily]