First, the Xbox: What an amazing piece of technology. Too expensive? Yes, especially if you need replacement parts, extra cables, or controllers. That whole Red Ring of Death thing? That was a billion-dollar mistake. But for pure graphical execution and gameplay, it blows everything else away. This is the future of home entertainment. It's still hard to look at one and remember it's a Microsoft product.
The Zune: I gave Microsoft a lot of well-deserved grief for the name (apparently "Zune" sounds a lot like the "F" word in Hebrew, and I don't mean "frankfurter"). But the Zune HD is another impressive piece of technology -- a beautiful, whizzy yet intuitive interface that looks nothing at all like Windows. Yet the Zune has barely gotten into the single digits in terms of market share. Don't blame the technology, blame Apple's stranglehold on the digital content market, Microsoft's inept marketing, and stupid decisions about DRM and the Zune Marketplace.
The new Windows Phone 7 Series seems to be finally abandoning the Windows metaphor and adapting to the form factor of the phone itself. And it's only five years too late.
Project Natal: The no-wands-required, gesture-based interface looks to be a major breakthrough in home gaming. If when it appears later this year it's as good as it initially looks, it will blow the Wii away.
The Courier Tablet, such as it was, got everyone in a tizzy -- even when it existed solely as an animation on Gizmodo. Yet Microsoft just killed it. Its primary designer? J Allard, though he denies the death of the Courier inspired him to leave.
Where did all of these products come from? You guessed it -- Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division. Boy, what a bunch of screw-ups.
Pop quiz: What's the biggest Microsoft disaster of all time? Sorry, time's up. The correct answer is Windows Vista. Seven years in the making, and a complete and utter cluster-zune.
Yet Windows and Office are still the cash cows for Redmond, generating billions in profits each quarter. They will for some time to come, just like mainframes still generate billions for IBM. They're not the future, though. The future lives in mobile devices and the cloud. That's now in the hands of Ballmer.