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Hoots of derision from some quarters aside, it looks like Microsoft has decided on a new course of action that doesn't rely on "but we're Microsoft" as the underlying basis for its strategy.
Microsoft made big news twice in the space of a week. First, it announced that it will open physical retail stores; then, it simultaneously introduced an upgraded mobile operating system featuring a new user interface, Windows Mobile 6.5, and unveiled a major deal with LG.
The technology blogosphere reacted to the store announcement with typical condescension, all too happy to remind Microsoft of its past failed attempt at retailing.
Maybe we should all be a little more constructive. This is a critical juncture for Microsoft. It's in deep trouble on a number of fronts -- from its loosening stranglehold on desktop productivity applications to shriveling server and browser market share.
It is also suffering from a bit of an identity crisis as it seeks to redefine itself from a software company to a cloud-friendly company, albeit with a lot of baggage.
Retail is the best and surest way for Microsoft to literally put its mobile products front and center, ensuring that its products (not iPods and PlayStations) get preferential treatment.
It's critical for Microsoft to reach consumers -- all you have to do is look at how consumers forced enterprises to allow the iPhone to see why.
CEO Steve Ballmer is hip to this (Ballmer and hip in the same sentence?), telling the Financial Times that "the time has come for us to take the full Windows experience to mobile phones."
I'm not ready to bet that Microsoft's stores will be a blow-out success, but I do think Microsoft can find new momentum in mobile.
For my full analysis of the situation, click here.
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