When political candidates concede a campaign, they praise the "long journey" and talk about how much they've "learned." In the same mode, Microsoft's CEO has all but said he's given up on the Zune.

Micorosft's music player has always been an also-ran, a late-to-market entry which mimicked the iPod but offered no new features consumers found compelling. Interviewed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ballmer backed into an admission of failure:

In digital music, meanwhile, Mr Ballmer seemed all but ready to throw in the towel on the Zune mobile device, which has failed to gain ground on Apple's iPod. But he suggested that the focus of competition in digital media was moving onto ground that Microsoft understands well: software.

He said that, with the market for dedicated portable media players in decline, the future lay in more "general purpose" devices – such as Apple's iPhone and touch.

Asked if Microsoft would counter with a "Zune Phone", Mr Ballmer said: "You should not anticipate that."

Great advice, Steve! As if anyone — aside from the media, which loves a good fight — was ever anticipating more Zune products. Even Steven Smith, the fellow who infamously tattooed himself with three Zune logos, has switched to an iPod.

So what has Microsoft "learned" in its "long journey"? Well, it's back to making software, largely for cell phones, which other manufacturers will then deliver to consumer — the model it knows so well from PCs. But that's also the same finger-pointing business model which led it to abject failure in the music-player market before it started a crash program to create the Zune. And a recent glitch which rendered a popular Zune model dead on New Year's hardly furthers the notion of Microsoft being strong in software.

How funny that Microsoft executives think its technical strategy is what needs to change, when the real problem is that the Microsoft brand is far too stodgy to succeed in an image-driven business like music. That's the kind of cluelessness that leads to one failed campaign after another — like a wannabe politician who just can't grasp the idea that no one wants to vote for him.