There are two kinds of Microsoft products that fail because of lousy timing. Some, such as the Zune, die because they arrive too late. But Microsoft is at least as likely to enter markets far too early, before the technology is up to the challenge at hand, and sometimes before consumers know why they should care about a category.
One failure of this second sort was WebTV, which began as an independent startup in 1995 and was acquired by Microsoft for $425 million in 1997. The company built a box that let you browse the web on your TV — over dial-up — and for a while, there was a widely-held assumption that we’d all be doing that, with one device or another, before long. Instead, WebTV never amounted to much. By the time Microsoft renamed it MSN TV in 2001, it was already pretty obscure.
So obscure, in fact…
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