Why do some consumer-electronics reviewers in the trade press and the mainstream media insist on encouraging Microsoft to persist in its delusional ambition to become a vendor of stylish and commercially successful hardware devices?
It just isn’t in Microsoft’s DNA to pull it off. Hardware design isn’t a core competence of the Redmond software behemoth, and the valuable resources that Microsoft spends in that pursuit can and should be apportioned elsewhere in its sprawling business.
The New York Times today features a review of Microsoft’s latest crop of Zune media players. Reviewer David Pogue begins by asserting that Microsoft "might finally be getting the hang of hardware," before going on to size up the Zune family alongside Apple’s dominant iPod brood.
For the most part, Microsoft still isn’t on par with Apple, as even Pogue concedes. Still, Pogue strongly implies that Microsoft doesn’t suck as badly at hardware as it did previously.
To me, that’s like saying the Miami Dolphins (0-11 so far this NFL season) aren’t quite as wretched as their record suggests or that the Oakland Raiders aren’t as bad as they were last season. The praise is relative, not absolute, and it depends on starting from an abject benchmark. It’s called damning with faint praise.
Microsoft should not have moved into the hardware business. The current crop of Zunes might be better than the last generation, but that’s not saying much.