"Microsoft won't abandon its profitable Windows licensing model," said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, in a blog post following Redmond's introduction of its self-made Surface tablet earlier this week. "There's little risk that the future of Windows is total vertical integration."
Microsoft unveiled Surface on Monday at a secretive press event at Milk Studios in Los Angeles.
The company plans to release two versions of the tablet. Surface for Windows RT will run the tablet-optimized Windows 8 RT operating systems on battery-saving ARM chips, while Surface for Windows 8 Pro will run the full-blown version of Windows 8 on more powerful Intel processors.
[ Why is Microsoft risking valuable partnerships by delivering a home-grown tablet? InformationWeek's Fritz Nelson explores 5 possible motivations in Microsoft Tablet Surfaces A New Strategy. ]
Microsoft did not offer any pricing details or specify a launch date, and left many other questions about the tablets unanswered.
The uncertainty around Microsoft's plans has prompted speculation in some corners that Redmond plans to abandon its tried and trusted model of focusing on software, while leaving hardware manufacturing to partners like Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Acer, and many others.
The thinking goes that producing its own tablets may be the only way Microsoft can offer devices that are price-competitive with products from Apple, which makes its own hardware, and OEMs that produce tablets based on Google's open source, free Android operating system.
But Rotman Epps believes such speculation is premature, calling the Surface "an experiment emboldened by the Xbox success." She cautioned, however, that Microsoft's decision to offer both ARM and Intel-based tablets that offer vastly different functionality--the ARM tablets, for instance, won't run software built for Windows 7 or older versions of the OS--could cause confusion among customers. Rotman Epps said, "Selling x86-based tablets in the same retail channels as Windows RT tablets will confuse consumers and sow discontent if consumers buy x86 and think they're getting something like the iPad."
Others, however, have noted that Apple's tablet marketing is also not exactly straightforward. Cupertino currently offers six different versions of its latest slate, which it simply refers to as the new iPad.
Windows 8 tablets and PCs are expected to be available sometime beginning in the fall.
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