Microsoft is winning by losing in mobile

So say the analysts, who dig deep to find an upside to Microsoft's lackluster showing in mobile

There are apparently a lot of conflicted naysayers who are truly, madly, deeply rooting for Microsoft -- and especially its Surface tablet -- to succeed. How else to explain the number of articles this week that strain to find a silver lining to Redmond's currently lackluster showing when it comes to mobile?

Take the reports this week about Surface RT. While actual sales figures remain a closely guarded state secret, estimates say the tablet is generating a tiny portion of Web traffic -- less than 1 percent, according to a study by Chitika Insights. But in Matt Hamblen's article on Surface RT sales, industry watchers turn this situation on its head and ask, "Does Microsoft truly want to produce boffo sales of the new device?" Shades of Pee-wee Herman ("I meant to do that").

Still, there may be some merit to analysts' theory that Microsoft is merely using Surface to seed the market before turning it over to OEMs and just wants to sell enough devices to get people interested in Windows 8. According to this glass-half-full argument, "modest sales for Surface could still be to Microsoft's advantage."

Interesting strategy -- only problem is Microsoft doesn't seem to be sticking to the game plan. News came midweek that distribution of the Surface was being widened to include retail outlets Staples and Best Buy. Microsoft's not saying what prompted the sooner-than-expected shift from its in-house sales strategy, but market researcher Steven Baker of NPD Group sums up both sides of the guessing game: "Either the products are doing well, and they wanted to accelerate their distribution, or the Surface is not doing well, and they decided they had to do something."

In another item from the silver lining playbook, Woody Leonhard examines possible reasons for the delay in Microsoft releasing Office for the iPad, and he comes to the conclusion that in fact Apple is Microsoft's best friend in delaying Office on iPad. As Leonhard points out, "having Office on other devices reduces sales of Windows RT devices" by taking away a prime reason to choose a Windows tablet over an iPad.

And in news this week around Windows Phone 8 -- currently entrenched in a battle of the wannabes -- Microsoft issued an update but won't say what it fixes. However, customers on online forums report that the update called Portico for the Windows Phone 8 HTC 8X fixes random rebooting problems and adds a Wi-Fi enhancement.

It probably comes as no surprise that Microsoft didn't make it into this week's slideshow of the 14 most influential smartphones ever, which was -- as you might have guessed -- dominated by iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices.

Still, in one way Microsoft had a very successful week in mobile: Everyone's still talking about the company.

This article, "Microsoft is winning by losing in mobile," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.