Ina Fried

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Why Today Is a Major Watershed in the History of Microsoft

Since its inception, Microsoft has had one strategy when it comes to computers.

The company has created software, and left others to make the chips and hardware it ran on.

Later on Monday, the company will make its biggest-ever break from that tradition. As we’ve been reporting since last week, Microsoft is set to announce its own brand of tablets as part of an effort to reinsert itself into the market.

Now, it’s not like Microsoft is entirely new to hardware. The company has been making things like mice and keyboards forever. Its most successful hardware product, the Xbox 360, is a leader in computer gaming.

But Microsoft’s hardware efforts beyond that have been more misses than hits.

Some would point to the Kin as the biggest flop — it lasted just two months on the market. But even more troubling, in some respects, was the Zune music player. While the Zune achieved some level of sales in the market, most of that came at the expense of Microsoft’s former hardware partners, rather than Apple, the company it had hoped to catch.

And although they are all taking a wait-and-see attitude publicly, the PC makers have been counting on Windows 8 to make their own reentry into the tablet market. That they will now have Apple and Microsoft to compete against can hardly be good news.

While it remains to be seen how this product compares to the competition, Microsoft finds itself in a position similar to when it introduced the Zune. At that point, the company had been trying to compete against the iPod, with a series of hardware partners using its software.

This time around, the stakes are much higher. We’re no longer talking about a peripheral, but rather the future of computing and the core of Microsoft’s business.

It might be easy to dismiss Microsoft, given its past failures and its lack of “cool” points. But Microsoft brings a number of assets to this fight.

Assuming this tablet capitalizes on everything Microsoft has access to, Redmond could have a contender. Obviously, Microsoft could bring both Windows and Office to the device. But, the company also has its Xbox gaming abilities, plenty of licensing deals with Hollywood and the music labels, as well as the Barnes & Noble partnership it stuck when settling a legal battle earlier this year.

Of course, it remains to be seen just how much Microsoft has put together for this device, not to mention how much it will cost and when folks can get their hands on it.

Most of those details should come later today, at a still undisclosed location in Los Angeles, with an event starting at 3:30 pm PT. AllThingsD will be there with live coverage and analysis.

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google