Microsoft can't write cool software. Does it really matter?

The quick death of the Kin shows once again that when it comes to cool, Microsoft has no clue. But does that really matter? Can Microsoft still thrive even without the coolness factor?

The Kin is just one example in a long line of product introductions in which Microsoft crashed and burned in trying to release "cool" products. Remember Microsoft's line of Smart Watches? Don't worry; no one else does, either.

Then, of course, there's the Zune. To call it second fiddle to the iPod is giving the device far too much credit.

Looking for an unholy alliance? How about using the Zune software on your Kin? Yes, it can be done, and Microsoft will show you how, in its Zune on Kin center page. Follow the instructions, and you may be the first person on the planet to do it.

As the New York Times notes, these are just a few examples of how Microsoft's consumer division doesn't seem to understand how to design nifty products that people want:

The Kins' flop adds to a long list of products -- from watches to music players -- that have plagued Microsoft’s consumer division, while its business group has suffered as well through less-than-successful offerings like Windows Vista and Windows for tablet computers.

In particular, the Kin debacle is a reflection of Microsoft's struggle to deliver what the younger generation of technology-obsessed consumers wants. From hand-held products to business software, Microsoft seems behind the times.

The Times says one reason for this is the company's inability to attract the right developers. It quotes Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media saying

"Microsoft is totally off the radar of the cool, hip, cutting-edge software developers. And they are largely out of the consciousness of your average developer."

All that being said, does it really matter that Microsoft can't attract the right developers, or create products that young consumers want? After all, the company is still the most profitable software company on the planet, and dominates in operating systems, productivity suites, and other business software.

Today it doesn't matter. Tomorrow it will. Smartphones, tablets, and other consumer gadgets not yet dreamed of will dominate the tech world tomorrow, and if Microsoft is an also-ran there, it will be in trouble. If it can't succeed with Windows Phone 7, for example, it will likely be locked out of smartphone growth. In the medium term, it will remain a profitable company, but not a growing one -- more like a utility firm than a tech company.

In the long term, though, even Windows and Office could be hurt if Microsoft can't break into the market for new devices. People will be more likely to buy an alternative operating system from Google, such as Chrome, or alternative productivity suite, such as Google Docs, if they're used to phones, tablets, and other devices that run Google software.

So for Microsoft, creating a successful consumer product isn't really about cool. It's about long-term survival.

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