Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
The Xbox 360 is already considered by some to be the best product that Microsoft has ever produced. That's not surprising as it's been among the few where the software giant has controlled "the whole widget" -- choosing the processor, designing the hardware, and developing not only the operating system and user interface, but a host of licensing standards, services and infrastructure supporting Xbox Live.
In short, with the Xbox 360, Microsoft has proven that it can play the architect, succeeding at the vertical integration game that Apple has traditionally nailed with the Macintosh and iPod. Microsoft hasn't reached market share dominance with the Xbox 360 as Apple has with the iPod, but on the other hand the Mac market – while profitable for Apple -- still has a small share of the PC marketplace despite its integration advantages.
If Microsoft can succeed at producing its own videogame hardware and is widely rumored to be working on its own branded portable media player, could it succeed at, say, its own PC hardware -- that is, going beyond the keyboards and mice that it sells very successfully today? To do so, Microsoft would have to produce a personal computer that broke with today's GUI conventions and Windows application compatibility.