Since both Microsoft and the FCC documents provide links to a downloadable User Manual, I was able to see whether Microsoft is going to bring anything special to the party via the MN-500's feature set. After plowing through the 100 page User's Guide, I have a few observations to share:
Manual - Although the manual is 100 pages long, only about 40 describe the product's configuration, and there's only one screen shot! Since there were no visual clues, I found myself having to really concentrate to keep track of what features the manual was describing. I was hoping for better here, but D-Link and Linksys do a much better job in their product documentation.
UPnP - Although the press release and MN-500 product description both cite Microsoft's gift to the networking world - Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) - as a feature, there's no mention of it in the User Guide...not even in the glossary! If Microsoft doesn't even support (and feature) their own creation in their networking product line, why should they expect every other network product maker to? Maybe they're hiding it behind their Windows-only BroadBand Network Utility... but then it wouldn't be Universal, would it?
BroadBand Network Utility - Speaking of the Utility, it reminds me of their ill-fated HomeClick application that they convinced 3Com to bundle with their HomePNA products a few years ago. This Windows-only utility lets you examine and change various network settings. But with all of WinXP's built-in networking magic, why throw yet another interface at the poor user? And why leave Win2000 and NT users out of the party?
Wireless Bridging? - The MN-500 is the first wireless router that I've seen that says it can also be used as a bridge. But the manual is unclear as to what is being bridged to what (other than "two networks or segments of a network") and the last part of the setup instructions that says:
After the reset is complete, turn off the computer and the base station. Remove the cable from the base station Ethernet port and insert it into the To Modem port. Leave the other end of the cable connected to the Ethernet port of the computer.
lost me completely. Not having a connection diagram didn't help, either.
MAC Address Connection and Association Controls - It looks like the MN-500 allows you to prevent undesired wireless clients from connecting to (or associating with) it, but again, the manual's description got a little convoluted and I again got lost (maybe it's just me) during the description of how the Connection Control feature treated wired clients. If Microsoft really has provided wireless Association control, however, that gives the MN-500 a leg up on many other wireless routers, which provide only MAC Address filtering for Internet access, leaving wireless clients free to access any LAN client.
WEP - Other articles have given Microsoft kudos for enabling WEP by default during the wireless setup. But this happens only if you use the Windows-only (Win2000 and NT excluded) Setup Wizard, which also wants you to use a floppy (they even throw in a blank disk) to move the WEP settings to your client computers. Otherwise you're on your own and have to deal with the Hexadecimal-only keys and no "passphrase" method of key generation... which many users find confusing.
I guess I have to join the ho-hum crowd on Microsoft's BroadBand Networking line. I see don't see any innovation here, and I don't really expect Microsoft to be a price-leader, although their prices are in the right ballpark.
So if buying something with the Microsoft name makes you sleep better at night, then go ahead and put your money down. But don't expect the earth to move when you turn it on, and don't be surprised if you find a bug or two.