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The Digital Skeptic: Microsoft and Dell: It's the Quality, Stupid

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Here's my two cents on Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) taking a big fat stake in Dell (DELL) as it goes private: It's about making a #@%&^% PC that won't #%@$#%* break.

How's this for an unexpected consequence of the interminable, nearly three-year Windows 8 hype cycle? Between test releases, betas and live versions of this never-ending software rollout, what looked like a fleet of dusty old Windows-based PCs piled up in my shop. Look, it's not fair -- or practical -- to keep ordering up fresh computers to test each nutty upgrade of Windows 8 as it showed up.

That meant older machines hung around the shop for an unusually long time, between 18 months and three years. And guess what happened? They began to fail.

Not catastrophically. No cracks, no blue screens of death or busted hard drives. Rather, across all brands and models, there was a slow trickle of broken bells and whistles: A wobbly power receptacle took down a Dell. Keys on an Acer jammed and fell off. A screen on a Toshiba somehow cracked. None of these issues, it seemed to me, were significant enough to cry foul to vendors -- a view company reps were more than happy to confirm.

"We have not seen an increase in laptop failures over the past year," Erin Davern, manager for media relations at Acer America, told me via email. I had similar conversations with folks at Toshiba and Sony (SNE).

"We've actually seen a decrease in out-of-warranty repairs handled," Davern added.

Still ... there were the dead laptop bodies, none of which included any of the Apple (AAPL) hardware in the shop, and it made all of us here wonder: Did Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer have a similar litter of sort-of-working PCs in his office?

Because if the new-generation of Windows 8 PCs is any indication, the devil will be in the details with these newly complex, touch-oriented computers. And that quality argument is unexplored territory for Microsoft and the PC industry.
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