On Surface Auguring a Resurgent Microsoft

Anil Dash, writing for Wired, is hopeful that the Surface portends a return of the Microsoft of old, and throws in a new-to-me theory that their consent decree with the DOJ hamstrung them over the past decade:

The government meddling was necessary, given Microsoft’s history of stretching/flouting the law, and it forced the company into some valuable concessions — like giving users more choice over their default browsers and supporting open standards for web pages. But it exacted a heavy toll on Microsoft’s ability to adapt and innovate.

The tech scene since then has been all about Apple. True, Steve Jobs headed up what is arguably the most remarkably innovative decade of any company in history. But it’s worth noting that Microsoft was handcuffed that entire time. While Windows is still the most popular OS on the desktop, it’s struggling for relevance on phones and has barely gotten started on tablets. Microsoft has become an underdog in all of the most interesting areas of technology.

But I don’t see how the consent decree held them back in the areas where Apple has thrived. Microsoft has not “barely gotten started on tablets” — they’ve been touting tablet computers longer and more emphatically than any technology company in the world. They had a mobile OS for smartphones on the market throughout the entire period of the consent decree. The problem wasn’t that the DOJ consent decree prevented the company from getting into the tablet and mobile phone space — the problem is that Microsoft’s entries in those spaces sucked. I haven’t read the whole thing, but I’m pretty sure the consent decree doesn’t contain any restrictions along the lines of “You can make tablets and smartphones, but they have to suck.”

If anyone questioned whether Microsoft could get back in the fight once the cuffs finally came off, Surface should put those doubts to rest. The gorgeous PC/tablet hybrid is the only example in recent memory of a company clearly and emphatically going toe to toe with Apple on the industrial design front. The iPad will have to improve. Android tablets will have to improve. Surface isn’t another me-too device — it moves the entire category forward.

Maybe. In fact, I hope so. But let’s wait until we get to, you know, actually use the thing before we declare it a winner. For all we know at this point, Surface might be the new Zune.

Monday, 13 August 2012