NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Microsoft (MSFT) has succeeded in very few consumer businesses as computing moves from desktops and onto mobile networks, even though the company has its hand in the pot of virtually every high-growth piece of the consumer technology industry.
Currently, Microsoft controls Bing, an offshoot of Yahoo!'s (YHOO) once-pioneering web-search business that's lost most of its market share to Google (GOOG), in recent years. After announcing a deal to acquire Nokia's (NOK) handset business for $7.1 billion, Microsoft is also poised to become one of the biggest manufacturers of smartphones.
The firm bought web-ad specialist aQuantive for $6 billion, in a move to bolster its Internet advertising expertise. In 2011, Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion to strengthen its communications services.
Microsoft currently holds a minority 15% stake in Barnes & Noble's (BKS) Nook Media tablet and e-reader business, and in late 2012, it rolled out a self-branded offering of Surface tablets. The company once held a near 2% stake in Facebook (FB) and it had a partnership with MySpace for early iterations of the Windows Phone.In recent weeks, Microsoft has been rumored as a possible investor in Foursquare, a location-based application. The company is even providing financing to Dell (DELL), amid the struggling PC-maker's efforts to be taken private by Silver Lake Partners and founder Michael Dell. To its credit, Microsoft operates the very successful Xbox video game console business Still, with assets across most consumer technology markets, few of Microsoft's businesses add up. Microsoft is trying to take the Apple approach, owning all parts of the ecosystem, though it's done so with little success. Skype is available on multiple platforms, whereas FaceTime is only available on iOS. Mobile consumers clearly favor Apple's iOS and Google's Android and Chrome ecosystems, which include a far-larger array of applications and more entrenched user bases. Google and Apple have also been able to take control of the smartphone market without collecting such a large array of assets. Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's handset businesses and their 32,000 employees raises the question of whether the firm is doubling down on a weak strategy. Is Microsoft investing in building out a successful Windows 8 platform that will integrate desktop computing with mobile trends once-and-for-all, or is Microsoft hoarding an ever-growing number of failed assets?
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