"Focus" is a word that gets used a lot in the business press. Companies that want to be successful should maintain focus, the gurus preach -- they should emphasize what they do well and build on their competitive advantages rather than chasing off after every market segment and product line out there. If you're looking for examples of companies that lack focus you couldn't do better than Microsoft. And it's at it again, with moves into the markets for handheld games and music players. But wait, that is Microsoft's focus, isn't it? Total war? "All your dollar are belong to us"?Microsoft has the world's shortest Enemies List. It reads, in its entirety, "Everybody." If I were Toshiba, JVC, NTT DoCoMo, Creative, or iRiver, for example, I'd be checking my back for sharp instruments every few minutes over the next few months. Those companies have joined a Microsoft-led consortium
to promote Windows Media-based music and video services in Japan in an effort to save at least a small piece of the Japanese media player market from Apple and its dread iPod.
I wonder what runs through the mind of a CEO invited to join with Microsoft against a common enemy. It must be very close to the feelings he or she would have just before diving into a tank of sharks. The only thing that keeps him or her from being lunch is the old adage that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
The rumor that Microsoft might get into the handheld game business makes a little more sense. At least it's a semi-logical outgrowth of Microsoft's XBox 360 business. And there may be a strong recycling angle here as well: it could could give Microsoft something to do with all those Origami UMPCs that are destined to sit in dusty warehouses.
Personally, I would rather have seen Microsoft ship Vista a couple of years ago than divert itself with media players and handheld games and ultra-mobile PCs and heaven knows what else. Maybe instead of focusing on everything it could focus on just an accomplishable number of business goals and achieve some of them.