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2/5/2008
08:54 AM
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Microsoft To Build Consumer Version Of Surface PC

Mass-market interest prompts about-face from original plan to keep touch-screen, tabletop computer commercial.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said Monday that the company is looking to create a version of its Surface tabletop computer for consumers.

"We've had more pushback to get a consumer version of the Surface than you can shake a stick at," Ballmer said at a meeting with financial analysts. "We will follow our noses in terms of consumer interest and make a set of investments to try to take some steps toward making Surface a consumer product."

Microsoft last year introduced Surface -- a coffee table-sized computer with a horizontal, 30-inch touch screen -- as a platform that businesses could use to create interactive kiosks and entertainment devices for customers. "We talked about how we were going to bring it to market for commercial customers," Ballmer noted.

But Ballmer said a high level of consumer interest in Surface has prompted the company to invest in creating a mass-market version. He didn't provide a time frame. Surface is expected to be widely available for businesses in the spring.

Some companies in the hospitality industry already are testing the tabletop, which is powered by the Windows Vista operating system and is compatible with numerous Windows applications.

Harrah's Entertainment is contemplating using Surface at its Las Vegas casinos, including Caesars Palace, to create a "virtual concierge" through which guests can reserve concert tickets, view menus at restaurants, or book spa treatments.

Other companies that have shown interest in Surface include Starwood Hotels and Restaurants and T-Mobile USA, according to Microsoft.

While consumers could use Surface as an interactive home appliance, price could scare off many potential customers from buying the device. Microsoft hasn't disclosed pricing, but large touch-screen displays are typically expensive.

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