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11/15/2012
10:01 AM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
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Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet Plans In Disarray

Surface Pro, as well as systems that run Win8 on Intel's Clover Trail platform, are missing in action at a key time -- creating a nasty enterprise tablet problem for Microsoft.

8 Key Differences Between Windows 8 And Windows RT
8 Key Differences Between Windows 8 And Windows RT
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
So where is Surface Pro? Microsoft's much-hyped, business-friendly Windows 8 tablet is nowhere to be seen. The delay, according to industry sources, has thrown the company's tablet plans, and indeed much of its strategy around Windows 8, into disarray. The situation may even have contributed to former Windows chief Steven Sinofsky's sudden exit this week.

Here's the background. Microsoft unveiled Surface earlier this year, revealing two versions. Surface RT, which runs Windows RT and shipped on Oct. 26, and Surface Pro, based on Windows 8 Professional. Windows RT is a Windows 8 derivative designed for consumer tablets. All Windows RT tablets are powered by ARM chips, and are designed to be light and long on battery life. The downside: They won't run regular Windows applications and are incompatible with many Microsoft security and management tools, including Active Directory.

That's where Surface Pro comes in, or was supposed to. It runs full-blown Windows 8, and was intended for business users and others who want legacy application support and compatibility with corporate IT environments. It's powered by Intel's Core i5 x86 chip. It promises full support for legacy Windows software and Microsoft's back-end admin, security and cloud tools.

[ What does the future hold for Microsoft? Read Watch For Microsoft To Acquire Nokia, Nvidia. ]

So which version of Surface is Microsoft currently pitching to businesses? If you guessed Surface Pro, you'd be wrong. Sources tell me company reps are pushing Surface RT to enterprise accounts because, frankly, they have no clue when Surface Pro will be ready.

A Microsoft spokesperson I contacted on Wednesday would say only that the tablet will be available within 70 days, which could put its release into next year. Microsoft isn't saying what's causing the delay. Other Windows 8 systems that run Intel's Core chips have already hit the market.

Not surprisingly, enterprise buyers aren't interested in Surface RT. "What the hell are we going to do with it?" said one source I talked to. The source works at a major financial institution, where Microsoft reps recently pitched Surface RT. "You can only run them in an unmanaged environment -- we'd have to be crazy" to use them, my source said.

There's another mess on the Windows 8 tablet front. Computer makers that developed systems based on Intel's new Clover Trail Atom platform are also scrambling. Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and others have announced Clover Trail-based tablets. But try and get any of them to commit to a specific ship date. I faux-ordered Dell's Latitude 10 Windows 8 tablet and received a "preliminary" date of Dec. 12.

The problem is Clover Trail. Intel just doesn't have it ready for mass production. Insiders say that, among other things, there's a problem with the chip's power management software. Intel ignored my request for a comment yesterday.

Most of these OEMs were smart enough to hedge their bets on Clover Trail, and also built Windows 8 tablets and convertibles that run Intel's proven Core architecture. I tested Dell's Ivy Bridge Core-based XPS 12 during Hurricane Sandy -- it stood up to the storm.

But the whole point of Clover Trail was that it was supposed to provide the Wintel ecosystem with a platform that could match ARM-based Android tablets and the iPad on power consumption, battery life and instant on/off, while still running Windows applications. Now it appears Clover Trail systems might not arrive in time for the crucial holiday shopping season.

Lest Microsoft try to claim it was never its intention to have Surface RT systems compete with Surface Pro and Clover Trail-based OEM tablets simultaneously, here's a quote from the company's Building Windows 8 blog, published on Feb 9. 2012. "Our collective goal is for PC makers to ship WOA PCs [i.e. Surface RT and other systems that run Windows on ARM] the same time as new PCs designed for Windows 8 on x86/64, using the latest generation of those platforms from low-power [i.e. Clover Trail] to high-performance [i.e. Core]."

Who authored that piece? It was none other than Sinofsky, who in making unkept promises may also have authored his own hasty exit from Microsoft. Ironically, his words were meant more as an assurance that development of the brand new Windows on ARM platform would keep pace with development of Intel-based systems, not vice versa.

Microsoft will undoubtedly insist otherwise, but there's a quiet little disaster in the making for the company and its partners.

Update (12:35 p.m.): Many readers have pointed out in the comments that Microsoft previously stated that Surface Pro would ship 90 days after Surface RT, and thus are taking issue with my use of the word "delay."

Microsoft did state that, in June. But, as I pointed out, Steven Sinofsky said in February that the company's goal was to have Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT systems ship "simultaneously."

So at some point between February and June Microsoft decided to delay the launch of Surface Pro until after that of Surface RT. Whether for technical or business reasons (perhaps to appease OEM partners), I stand by my point that the decision is creating disarray and confusion at retail and in the channel, and has the company's own enterprise salespeople scrambling to fill the void because, as of Nov. 15, there is still no specific launch date for Surface Pro.

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MarkN
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MarkN,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 4:59:00 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet Plans In Disarray
Thank you for writing about this. I've been trying to buy a Windows 8 tablet since the 10/26 release and you can hardly find them anywhere. And it's not just the Surface Pro and Atom tablets that are MIA - you can't even find the iCore based touch enabled devices in stock anywhere. I've wondered why the press wasn't picking up on this story
PMcDougall
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PMcDougall,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 4:59:32 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet Plans In Disarray
Some readers are making the point that Microsoft has previously stated that Surface Pro would ship 90 days after Surface RT. That's true, but that statement came *after* it said its goal was to have WinRT and Win8 Pro systems ship at the same time. I refer you to Sinofsky's blog, which I quote toward the end of the story.
NPCO
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NPCO,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 5:00:05 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet Plans In Disarray
There's a contradiction in your article that's worth pointing out. Yes, enterprise customers will only be interested in the Surface Pro. And yes, Surface Pro might (likely will) miss the holiday shopping season. But those two facts do not equal Microsoft's tablet strategy being in complete disarray for the simple fact that the enterprise doesn't make or time their purchase decisions based on the holiday shopping season.

The consumer tablet (Surface RT) is available now and will be available through the holiday season when the target market (the consumer) will be most likely to treat themselves to a new toy.

The enterprise tablet (Surface Pro) will be available whenever it's ready, reliable and fully functional. The holiday shopping season doesn't matter because the enterprise doesn't buy tablets (or any equipment) as Christmas presents.

Sure, there IS consumer interest in Surface Pro, and they might loose out on some of that interest by missing the holiday shopping season, but that amount will likely be very small because the people who are most interested in Pro for it's ability to run x86 applications will wait for it. There's no choice - if you want to run x86, neither the RT, Android or for that matter, iOS tablets will do the job. For those who running x86 apps isn't important, they can buy the RT right now.

In other words, if you're not going to wait for the Pro, then you're not that interested in x86 compatibility, and if you're not interested in x86 compatibility, then the RT is available right now. If you're not interested even in RT, that speaks to the features and value of the tablet itself, which is an entirely different subject than simple availability.

I'm not saying Microsoft's Windows 8/tablet/mobile strategy in general is good or bad, but you're pasting together very disparate things to reach a specific conclusion.
VasyaPupkinsan
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VasyaPupkinsan,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 5:08:35 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet Plans In Disarray
Overhyped BS usually leads to aftermath.

Ballmersoft exacerbates the issue by stocking up on scapegoats upfront.
VasyaPupkinsan
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VasyaPupkinsan,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 5:10:06 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet Plans In Disarray
It's out. Stop shilling, go and actually BUY one.
VasyaPupkinsan
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VasyaPupkinsan,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 5:10:57 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet Plans In Disarray
Do you care? Unless you are a shill on Ballmer's payroll.
VasyaPupkinsan
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VasyaPupkinsan,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 5:12:23 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet Plans In Disarray
DId you read the article?
It is not about the release date.
VasyaPupkinsan
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VasyaPupkinsan,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 5:13:07 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet Plans In Disarray
And you too. Read the article first.
NPCO
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NPCO,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 5:14:15 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet Plans In Disarray
Yea, it's about missing the holiday shopping season, which happens to mean exactly ZERO to the enterprise.
VasyaPupkinsan
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VasyaPupkinsan,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 5:14:32 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet Plans In Disarray
So you saying you are trashing Microsoft and not you nor anyone else did a research on what you just wrote?
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