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Originally published June 18, 2012 at 9:39 PM | Page modified June 19, 2012 at 8:37 PM

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A great move, but Microsoft has a sales job

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Microsoft unveiled much more than a striking new gadget Monday.

The software giant, at a media event in Los Angeles, delivered what may be the largest update in its history, a system reset that could change the course of the personal-computer industry, which touches more than 1 billion people around the world.

And, yes, it's going to take awhile to download it all, reboot and reset perceptions. Especially if you haven't updated since Windows Vista.

Microsoft is making a fundamental change to one of the greatest businesses in history, an enterprise that transformed the Puget Sound region and continues to funnel billions of dollars a month through Redmond.

The company's greatest innovation was a common software platform that other companies used to build the PC industry.

You also could say it skimmed the cream, selling high-margin software to companies building lower-margin hardware.

Now it's making computers, too. Not only game consoles or experimental business systems, but full-blown PCs aimed at the fastest-growing part of the market.

Not only that, Microsoft's Surface and Surface Pro look to be some of the nicest systems on the market when they arrive this year.

No wonder that Dell announced last week that it's going to cut back on PC development and turn its focus more toward corporate computing and consulting.

It's too early to say how the Surface will stack up against Apple's iPad. The biggest factor for most consumers buying these devices is price, and Microsoft maddeningly isn't saying how much the Surface versions will cost.

If the price is within $100 or $200 of an iPad, office workers are going to have a harder time persuading their employers to buy them iPads. Why would a company buy an employee an iPad plus a PC, when they could buy a Microsoft Surface instead?

So far none of the Windows tablets shown comes close to the style and sizzle of Microsoft's new hardware. Especially sweet are the thin covers with built-in keyboards.

The polish of Windows 8 also puts the Surface into a different category than tablets running Google's Android software.

Taken altogether, the amount of innovation and creativity that Microsoft revealed Monday is remarkable.

Most people never would have guessed that Ballmer & Co. had it in them.

And that's what will be the biggest challenge for Microsoft, the PC company.

Because even if the company has developed the nicest computers anyone's ever seen and sells them for a reasonable price, it's going to have to overcome enormous obstacles.

Namely the decades of resentment among people who, rightly and wrongly, blame Microsoft for the problems and frustrations they've had with computers.

That's been exacerbated by the computer industry's resentment of Microsoft's profitable model and its heavy-handed business practices.

Even after Microsoft repented and the quality of its software improved, competitors continued to highlight and amplify the company's missteps.

Microsoft is a much more diverse company nowadays, and it's been humbled in recent years by Apple's success in phones and tablets.

But the software giant's success building huge new businesses in servers and entertainment are still overshadowed — especially in the Silicon Valley echo chamber — by fumbles such as Vista, the Zune media players and Kin phones.

PC makers cutting costs and producing underpowered, old-fashioned machines haven't helped Microsoft's cause. With growing competition from low-cost tablets, that situation was likely to worsen.

Microsoft had to do something bold to shake these stereotypes of the company as a bumbling has-been.

As one of the slides at Microsoft's Monday event said, "Here's to the next 30 years."

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687


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About Brier Dudley

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest. | 206-515-5687


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