Microsoft's Hardware Hits And Misses Through The Years

ActiMates was launched as a joint venture between Microsoft and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and was heralded as an "innovative-early learning system for children ages 2 to 5." In November of 1997, PBS experimented with the children's show "Barney and Friends" by using a specially encoded signal and animation technology from Microsoft. The technology utilized an interactive plush Barney doll as a child's viewing companion. ActiMates was also designed to work with interactive TeleTubbie dolls that enthusiastically voiced encouraging words to kids like "good answer!" Microsoft as a toymaker was a failure; ActiMates was canned three years later.

Trackballs -- you either love them or hate them. The ergonomic IntelliMouse was designed to fit the natural shape of a user's hand. It supported Windows 95, NT and even Windows 3.1 with limited functionality. Microsoft has had a degree of success with its input devices and the IntelliMouse continues to evolve.

The amount of computer usage soared throughout the 90s and it wasn't too long afterwards when we began to hear about carpal tunnel syndrome and other disorders associated with extended computer use. Microsoft launched the Natural Keyboard Elite, which was not the first ergonomic keyboard on the market, but it was well-received. The line of Natural Keyboards is still being offered.

Microsoft's Cordless Phone System was the first 900-MHz cordless phone to link with the PC. The system came with Microsoft's Call Manager software, which allowed users to manage address books, voice messages, speed dial and other phone-related tasks. But according to various reviews at its release, the product was time-consuming to set up. Microsoft stopped releasing drivers and updates for it after Windows 98.

The MSN Companion can kind of be considered the "grandfather" of netbooks. This product was the result of a joint venture between Microsoft and Compaq. It was described in a press release as a "Home Internet Appliance." Its purpose was to provide an easy Web-browsing and e-mail experience for new Internet users. It was also intended for elderly users with a 10.1-inch LCD flat-panel color monitor. MSN access and MSN services were preinstalled and preconfigured. The MSN Companion shipped with Windows CE and IE 4.0. Microsoft stopped supporting it in 2003.

The Xbox has come a long way, but sales continue to trail Sony's PlayStation and Nintendo's Wii. The original Xbox was in direct competition for gamers' hearts with other gaming war horses at the time: Sony's PlayStation 2, Sega's Dreamcast and Nintendo's GameCube. The original Xbox shipped with an Intel Pentium III 733-MHz with 128-KB and 64-MB DDR SDRAM and an Nvidia 256-bit 2D/3D card.

Bill Gates himself introduced the Tablet PC at Comdex in New York City in 2002. The official moniker was the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Microsoft promised all of the same functionality as a laptop -- plus more -- the ability to use a digital pen as an input device. This feature also caused the tablet PC to become known as the "pen-operated" PC. Microsoft's Tablet PC had a painstakingly slow adoption rate. According to IDC and Gartner's first year, tablet sales were around 425,000, a number that angered many of the hardware manufactures that invested in them.

Seven years since its inception, Microsoft's Wireless Optical Desktop for Bluetooth seems to still garner good reviews and adamant fans, despite the awkward name. Several reviews have described this product offering as simply the fastest and most accurate wireless keyboard/mouse combination available.

The Microsoft Fingerprint Reader was a good idea that promised to alleviate the pain of remembering all of those passwords in a typical user's life by reading a fingerprint as a password. But the technology was flawed. Hackers quickly discovered that the fingerprints stored on the reader were not encrypted and, thus, the device was insecure. According to Wikipedia, the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters were able to "trick" the device using gummi bears to make prints. It's telling that no drivers for the Fingerprint Reader have been developed for 64-bit XP or Vista.

Surface is a multitouch computer that responds to natural hand gestures and real-world objects. Surface allows users to grab digital content with their hands as well as move data between devices like mobile phones and applications. Perhaps the most widespread application of Surface is for businesses. Harrah's Entertainment in Atlantic City utilizes this technology, as well as Sheraton Resorts and Hotels. Many are predicting Surface to be incorporated with Microsoft's rumored new mobile phone and touch screen.