Microsoft's Worst Nightmare (Nope, Not Google)

Steven Burke
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The linchpin of the lineup is a new Cisco Linksys user interface more than two years in development. It's powered by a ringlike device consumers point and click with to access a wide range of content.

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Cisco, which is boosting that effort with its planned WebEx acquisition, likely will shed some light on the consumer/small-business assault at its Partner Summit this week in Las Vegas. Linksys gave a sneak peek of the big bang lineup with a look at the new Ring interface and wireless media player a la Apple TV at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year.

The Cisco connected home lineup is all about making it easier for consumers and, yes, even small businesses to connect wirelessly with anything and everything.

The Cisco/Linksys drive into the home follows an absolutely miserable effort by Microsoft, which had a first-mover advantage but blew it in favor of its Xbox gaming play. Maybe Microsoft figured the timing just wasn't right. In any case, Microsoft angered a lot of digital home integrators who were hoping for some support to break open the market.

Enter Cisco/Linksys, which has all the product pieces, including robust VoIP and video networking functionality, to deliver a formidable world-class product set.

The big question is, will Cisco invest in building a world-class digital integrator network? Or will it make the same mistake Microsoft did and put together an unbalanced channel effort that is too far weighted toward retailers?

Only time will tell. But all indications are that the company is making the right moves. One good sign: Linksys has just put in place partner reps in the field to assist solution providers. That partner rep effort is aimed at helping solution providers generate demand and is the same model that propelled Cisco to the top of the networking world.

Nigel Williams, Linksys vice president of worldwide channels, says the new connected home products are a significant opportunity for solution providers. He's right.

No, Microsoft, it's not a dream. Cisco is set to steal the biggest and most exciting market right out from under your nose. That is, of course, if it gets the channel part right.

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