Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Microsoft Jumps into Tablet Competition ; with Surface, Company Pushes into Hardware with Risk to PC Makers

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Microsoft Jumps into Tablet Competition ; with Surface, Company Pushes into Hardware with Risk to PC Makers

Article excerpt

With its new tablet, Surface, Microsoft is making its most strategically significant push yet into the hardware business, but it will also effectively be competing directly with its biggest customers.

In its most strategically significant push yet into the hardware business, Microsoft has introduced a tablet computer called the Surface that is intended to challenge Apple's iPad.

At a media event Monday, the company showed off a tablet that is about the same weight and thickness as an iPad, with a 10.6-inch, or 27-centimeter, screen. The device has a built-in "kickstand" that allows it to be propped up for watching movies, and a thin detachable cover that will serve double duty as a keyboard.

The Surface tablet runs a variation of Windows 8, a version of Microsoft's flagship operating system due out this autumn. Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, said the product was part of a longstanding tradition at Microsoft of creating hardware that shows off innovations in its software.

"We want to give Windows 8 its own companion hardware innovations," Mr. Ballmer said.

Microsoft executives, however, were largely silent on how the Surface would affect the company's relationships with PC makers, the hardware companies that are the vehicles for sales of Windows software. With its new tablet, Microsoft will effectively be competing directly with its biggest customers.

When asked whether the Surface would damage those ties, Steven Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft's Windows division, gently pushed a reporter in the direction of a stand of Surface tablets and said, "Go learn something."

Analysts said it was not clear that Microsoft could depend on PC companies to build something as compelling as the iPad.

"This was clearly a referendum on Microsoft's partners," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner, a technology research firm. "Microsoft felt they could not rely on others to deliver on their vision for Windows 8 in mobile computing."

Microsoft's decision to create its own tablet was an acknowledgment that the company needed to depart from its regular way of doing business to get a grip on a threat to its dominance in computing.

While it has made a few hardware products over the years, including the Xbox video game console, the Zune music player and computer keyboards, Microsoft is still thought of largely as a software company. For decades it has left the work of creating machines that run Windows to Hewlett-Packard, Dell and others.

But the response to the iPad has considerably raised consumers' expectations for the way hardware and software work together.

That has put pressure on Microsoft to create a tighter marriage of hardware and software if it is to compete seriously with Apple's products.

As it prepares to release Windows 8, which is designed for touch- screen devices, Microsoft can ill afford a flop. …

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