The "soft" in Microsoft isn't what it used to be. A score ago, the company was certain the software-licensing business was the one it wanted to be in -- Apple decided to hold its cards a lot closer to the chest, and it cost the company dearly for years. Meanwhile, Microsoft made a lot of cash with Windows, and it still does. But the tide is turning. Two of the last three Windows operating systems haven't generated the kind of crazed mindshare that a company needs to remain relevant over the long haul, and at some point, one has to wonder if Microsoft will be able to inject a bit of life into its stodgy, outmoded self by grabbing the reins on the hardware side.
In fact, that's exactly what Microsoft wondered, as it casually announced a plan in June of 2012 to affront scores of OEM partners with its Surface initiative. In an instant, Microsoft dove headfirst into the hardware game, and regardless of how it wanted the public to perceive the move, the truth was impossible to hide: this was Microsoft telling Acer, ASUS, Dell, Lenovo and the rest that it could no longer trust their design chops to keep its revenue on the up and up.
In February of 2011, well before it transformed the Surface from a big-ass table into a slate that almost no one wants to buy (Microsoft's words, not mine), the company managed to procure a huge ally on the mobile front. The Nokia / Microsoft alliance was monumental. This was Nokia's formidable hardware being exclusively used to push Microsoft's fledgling Windows Phone OS. At once, Nokia loyalists found hope, and those praying for a coalition with Android were dismayed. Little did we know: that partnership marked the end of the original Microsoft, the end of the original Nokia and, in my estimation, a complete rerouting of the Windows roadmap. This week's acquisition simply makes it all the more official.