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When smart entertainment systems first began appearing in cars, at the turn of this century, Microsoft was there.
Like so many Microsoft consumer products, picking the right name has been an ongoing challenge. The opening of the Wikipedia page for Microsoft's Windows Embedded Automotive is unintentially hilarious: "Windows Embedded Automotive, formerly Microsoft Auto, Windows CE for Automotive, Windows Automotive, and Windows Mobile for Automotive..."
The biggest win for Windows in cars was Ford's decision to adopt the technology for its Sync platform. The software received generally low marks, and Ford abandoned the platform for one based on BlackBerry's QNX software in 2015.
In recent years, Microsoft has become considerably more aggressive about ending unsuccessful consumer projects.
Consider the Microsoft Band, a wearable device designed to compete with Fitbit and similar devices. Version 1 was released in late 2015, with version 2 arriving a year later, at the same time as the first Apple Watch.
Apparently Microsoft's executives took a close look at the Band in 2016, asking, in effect, "Why are we in this business?"
No one knows exactly what the answer was, but the result was unmistakable: The Band was canceled before version 3 could be released.
Windows 10 Mobile
Let us start with a fact: Windows 10 Mobile is a very polished, capable operating system, and it's an ideal combination for hardware like the HP Elite x3 phablet shown here.
The signature feature of this device is its small docking station, which uses the Continuum feature to connect to a full-sized keyboard and monitor and turns that phablet into a full-fledged PC. Well, almost.
The trouble is, app developers actively avoided Windows 10 Mobile. And without apps, the buyers never materialized.
And so, late in 2017, Microsoft finally ended its long Windows Mobile experiment, admitting that new features and new hardware aren't in the cards for the platform.
Nokia: Steve Ballmer's last big bet
Microsoft's decision to acquire Nokia's smartphone business in 2013 was one of the company's greatest failures ever, an all-in bet by CEO Steve Ballmer to unify Windows on the desktop, on tablets, and on mobile phones.
Under the leadership of former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop, Nokia had been Microsoft's most enthusiastic OEM partner, delivering beautiful Windows Phone hardware that failed to win over consumers.
Windows diehards loved the devices, but they didn't make of a dent in the market share of the iPhone-Android duopoly.
Rumor has it that the decision to buy Nokia was inspired by the Finnish company's threat to switch to Android. In retrospect, that might have been a better decision for all concerned. Instead, Microsoft wound up writing off its entire investment in Nokia less than two years later, laying off the workforce and dumping its manufacturing capacity.
Nokia's noncompete agreement with Microsoft expired in 2016. Today, the company sells a variety of Android-powered devices under the Nokia brand name.
It's hard to believe today, but Microsoft once had the dominant smartphone platform, with its Windows Mobile software.
That dominance ended soon after the one-two punch of the original iPhone (2007) and the debut on Google's Android platform (2008). The fact that Microsoft thought it made economic sense to release its two Kin smartphones in May 2010 was a classic example of management unwilling to write off a billion-dollar mistake.
Within weeks, it was obvious that the Kin was a spectacular failure. Within two months, Verizon (Microsoft's exclusive partner) had stopped selling the devices and Microsoft ceased production. Over the next year Microsoft methodically erased all traces of the project and reassigned its developers to other projects. The Kin burns out in record time.
Windows Home Server
Why is there a server in the house?
It seemed like such a good idea in 2007. Put a compact, quiet, PC-like device in a corner of your home, fill it with hard drives, and plug in an Ethernet cable. Voilà! You can now back up all the PCs in your home, stream music and videos over your local network, and even access your server and its connected PCs across the Internet.
It turned out that most consumers didn't want to manage a home server, even if it had a fairly simple dashboard for administrative tasks. The fact that it contained a data-destroying bug that corrupted files for some early adopters just added to its unpopularity.
The rise of streaming music and video services and the meteoric growth of smartphone sales over the next few years made Windows Home Server increasingly less relevant for all but a passionate cult.
Support for the final release of Windows Home Server ended in 2016. It was succeeded by Windows Server Essentials, a product aimed at small businesses.
In the days when PC software shipped in shrink-wrapped boxes, Microsoft did its best to keep the consumer aisles fully stocked.
There was Microsoft Money, the personal finance software that survived only because antitrust agencies blocked the company from buying Quicken. And there was Encarta, an encyclopedia on a CD-ROM.
But the highest flyer of all was Flight Simulator, which is one of Microsoft's oldest titles, dating back to 1982.
Microsoft's last entry in the Flight Simulator franchise was released in 2012 and canceled only a few months later. In 2014, the company licensed Flight Simulator X to Dovetail Games, ending its reign in Redmond.
Outside of games and consumerized packages of Office, Microsoft has virtually no consumer software today. Yes, consumer software disappears over the horizon.