Longtime Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott said that Surface tablets could start to show up at retail outlets "within days." Thurrot said Microsoft had always planned to establish retail distribution for Surface, "but the software giant has apparently decided to ramp up the speed and make it happen before the holiday selling season is over."
Microsoft has not commented publicly on Surface sales, but some analysts have said that they are running below the company's expectations.
Analysts at Boston-based brokerage firm Detwiler Fenton last week pegged sales of Surface RT at between 500,000 and 600,000 units since the product launched Oct. 26. By contrast, Apple sold 3 million iPads in three days following November's launch of the iPad Mini. "Lack of distribution is killing the product," Detwiler Fenton said, in a research note.
[Will Microsoft introduce more hardware products beyond Surface? CEO Steve Ballmer suggests it's likely.]
Surface RT runs a pared-down version of Windows 8 known as Windows RT. The OS, which runs on ARM-based chips from Nvidia and others, is not compatible with standard Windows applications.
It only supports software pre-installed by Microsoft or apps downloaded from the company's online Windows Store. Surface Pro runs full-blown Windows 8, and it's also compatible with legacy Windows applications and Microsoft's full range of security and management products. Surface Pro, however, will not be available until January, according to Microsoft.
Windows 8 tablets, laptops and PCs are also available from numerous other vendors, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, ASUS and Acer, but Microsoft and its partners have been mum when it comes to sales data.
Windows unit co-chief Tami Reller claimed last month that 40 million licenses have been sold. The number is difficult to interpret however, given that Microsoft has declined to say how many of those copies are preinstalled on systems that have yet to find a buyer.
Microsoft is counting on Windows 8 to make it a player in the tablet market, which is dominated by Apple and, to a lesser extent, devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 that run Google's Android operating system. But to date the effort does not appear to be paying off. Market researcher NPD earlier this month said that sales of Windows-based systems are down 21% since Windows 8 debuted on Oct. 26, compared to the same period a year ago.
Microsoft has not commented on Thurrot's report. The company's stock was up 1.14%, to $26.76, in early trading Monday.