The Macalope Daily: Fan mail

What happens when ostensibly smart people write stupid columns? That’s the question Anil Dash inadvertently answered by writing this Wired piece, entitled “With the Surface Tablet, Fist-Swinging Microsoft Jumps Back Into the Ring.”

In a world where Apple’s white logo glows angelically in our shopping malls and Google exhorts us not to be evil…

You really just wrote that, didn’t you.

…I’m ready to embrace a big tech company that’s not afraid to get mean.

Because Microsoft, which has chosen to sit on its great fat laurels for ten years, all the while in abject denial, is the tough businessman, while Apple and Google are sissies. Or something. It’s hard to make sense of what Dash’s point is here.

Over and over, [Microsoft] used brilliant technical judo to neutralize competitors so effectively, it probably could have succeeded wildly without ever crossing the lines of legality.

But you know how it is, girl! Sometimes you just gots to cross that line! Awww, yeah, baby!

The government meddling was necessary, given Microsoft’s history of stretching/flouting the law, and it forced the company into some valuable concessions—like giving users more choice over their default browsers and supporting open standards for webpages. But it exacted a heavy toll on Microsoft’s ability to adapt and innovate.

Did it? Dash places the blame for Microsoft’s “lost decade” on its settlement with the government, but if there’s something in that settlement that precluded Microsoft from making hardware, the Macalope’s not aware of it. And, to be fair, there’s a lot in there he’s not aware of, because reading an antitrust settlement is up there with watching a salt lick dissolve in the rain on the “riveting activities” list.

True, Steve Jobs headed up what is arguably the most remarkably innovative decade of any company in history. But it’s worth noting that Microsoft was handcuffed that entire time.

By incompetence.

Sweaty, sweaty incompetence.

If anyone questioned whether Microsoft could get back in the fight once the cuffs finally came off, Surface should put those doubts to rest.

If you’re the kind of person who puts their blind faith into buggy demos of products the attendees were not allowed to use.

The gorgeous PC/tablet hybrid is the only example in recent memory of a company clearly and emphatically going toe to toe with Apple on the industrial design front.

Who cares if it works or the user experience sucks?! IT’S GOT A KICKSTAND!

The iPad will have to improve. Android tablets will have to improve. Surface isn’t another me-too device—it moves the entire category forward.

Or sideways into a ditch. Which is kind of like forward. Just to the side.

It’s pieces like this that prompted the Macalope to say it’s high time to put the “Apple reality distortion field” myth to bed. The horny one’s been saying this for four years: “It’s amazing how future Microsoft products beat current Apple products time and time again, isn’t it?”

And with Surface, Microsoft is taking on more than Apple; it’s swinging its fists at all of its PC partners who’ve been churning out dull tablets and laptops for years.

Well, that’s the real potential for disruption that the Surface presents. Why couldn’t Microsoft have done this eight years ago? The settlement with the government was about software bundling and access to APIs, not whether or not Microsoft could make its own hardware.

The Macalope is really looking forward to the Surface’s arrival. It’s either going to be an interesting sea change in the market … or a lot of pundits are going to be wondering which white wine goes best with crow.

(Crow’s actually kind of dry, so something on the sweet side is best.)

[Programming note: the Macalope will be off for a well-deserved vacation until mid-week next week. Enjoy your respite from silly punditry as much as this mythical beast will.]

[Editors’ Note: In addition to being a mythical beast, the Macalope is not an employee of Macworld. As a result, the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.]

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