Microsoft says it offers the best software in the world. But it missed the branding boat when it came to a device, which has given average TV consumers to do something that always seemed to confound them: record TV programs easily.
Now Microsoft wants to make a bigger leap into TV, rolling out its latest version of Microsoft XP Media Center, which will use specially-configured personal computers that turn a PC into a photo album, music player, DVD player and, last but not least, a TV set with a built-in digital recorder.
Microsoft has been known as a clumsy but very big software company, and one that almost always gets it right - eventually. For instance, first attempts to compete with the Palm PDA software didn't work too well. Microsoft's first software for PDA devices was too cumbersome - and caused the device to have power problems.
For TV, it's much harder. Perhaps the only TV industry investment that has worked for Microsoft - from a financial point of view - has been its partnership with NBC in MSNBC. But the cable news network continues to struggle to compete with the likes of CNN and Fox News Channel, regularly coming in a distant third place in ratings. Microsoft is much like a silent partner, having little to do with the content.
So what makes us believe that it will go any better for Microsoft with Media Center? Maybe it needs better marketing solutions. Does it have a catchy name? Will it have groovy advertising? And most of all will the product be easy to use? Perhaps Microsoft has answers. Apple Computer could offer one way on how to do it. Look at the Ipod.
TV is different and more complicated. Microsoft is already involved with cable set-top boxes, and other technology such as WebTV. But do TV consumers need a new hodgepodge device that seemingly does everything in an adequate way - but maybe not great way. Think of those fax/printer/copy machines that do an okay job for each individual task - but not great for any single one.
The New York Times has it right: "Television has been something of great white whale for Microsoft."
More accurately, it is a whale with the flu - in search of a hard-to-come-by flu shot.