Microsoft’s Surface Tablets: Why Windows Is Its Own Worst Enemy

Microsoft’s announcement that it is launching its own first-party hardware for a family of Windows tablets is welcome news: If you want a job done right, do it yourself. While Asus, Lenovo, Nokia, Samsung, and Toshiba are expected to launch their own Windows RT products this year, other major OEMs are notably absent from the list, either because they’re focused on x86 devices first or because they were locked out of the launch like HTC. Microsoft's Surface tablets will run on both chipsets.

Microsoft has so many assets to bring to its own hardware: Smartglass, a “Kinect camera,” Skype, Barnes & Noble Nook content, Microsoft Office (although that won’t be exclusive to Windows), just to name a few. While skeptics rightly criticize past Microsoft hardware failures like the Zune player, Xbox is a more recent example of resounding success. With the next generation of the Xbox “720” due out soon, Microsoft will have ample opportunity to bundle and promote the two products together and sell its tablets through the same consumer retail channels — although to start at least, the Surfaces will only be available at Microsoft Stores and online, which certainly limits adoption potential.

This product line marks a crucial pivot in Microsoft’s product strategy. It blends the Xbox first-party hardware model with the Windows ecosystem model. It puts the focus on the consumer rather than the enterprise. And it lets Microsoft compete with vertically integrated Apple on more even ground.

BUT — and you knew there was a “but” coming — Microsoft will be its own worst enemy in this market. More so than Apple or Google, the worst thing that could happen to Microsoft’s Windows RT tablets is Windows 8 on x86. 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. Microsoft and its partners need to articulate a compelling strategy for how they will manage consumer expectations in the channel. Consumers aren’t used to thinking about chipsets. Choice is a key tenet of Windows, but too much choice is overwhelming for consumers. Apple gets this, and limits iPad options to connectivity, storage, and black . . . or white.

Like Microsoft’s “Signature” PCs, a Microsoft-designed tablet sets the standard for other OEMs to follow. But Microsoft won’t abandon its profitable Windows licensing model; there’s little risk that the future of Windows is total vertical integration. This is an experiment emboldened by the Xbox success. But in the game console market, Microsoft doesn’t compete against itself.


"Choice is a key tenet of

"Choice is a key tenet of Windows, but too much choice is overwhelming for consumers. Apple gets this, and limits iPad options to connectivity, storage, and black…or white."

This is precisely why I don't buy Apple products. Sometimes one size doesn't fit all.

this is why windows open

this is why windows open system was king during the 90s and the imacs were closed system with over priced hardware, look at he thunderbolt apple display you can get the same panel for about half the price if you leave the apple logo at the door.

"Choice is a key tenet of Windows, but too much choice is overwhelming for consumers. Apple gets this, and limits iPad options to connectivity, storage, and black…or white."

"This is precisely why I don't buy Apple products. Sometimes one size doesn't fit all."


Choice and loads of different

Choice and loads of different options were great during the 90s. We didn't have that much on our plate, technologywise, and it was mostly the technologysavvy that ran the game. Nowadays there is soooo much technology out there, in every facet of our lives, that we just don't want to do more work just getting our devices to.. well... work.

We now want to pay someone else to do it. What was once a cool hobby for the technologysavy, has today become a necessity for anyone to function. What was once entertainment and cool, has today become work.

Choice, in many cases, is something a manufacturer hides behind when one doesn't take the time or put in the effort to find out what is the best, most efficitient and natural way to solve and present something. "Ach... just give them the choice, and they will figure it out themselves..." worked well in the old days, because we wanted to spend time playing around with technology itself. Setting up Windows just the way you wanted was an expression of you, and a goal in itself. Today... these devices have become degraded to devour content. It's the CONTENT that is important now. Not the device.

That's why I think Apple has got it in the bag, and why "choice" is not as attractive as it once were. As a philosopher once said, and I agree fully with, "the only constant is change". The world moves on. What fit before, fits no more. Or as they so nicely say when giving information about stocks "past performance is no guarantee of future performance" :)

Disclaimer: I'm as technosavvy as they come. I've been working in IT for 15 years, and playing with computers ten years before that..


Obviously, many companies will give a wider choice of hardware options than will one company. But even Apple now has some 8 or ten different iPad options for hardware.

As for software, no one comes close to the hundreds of thousands of software programs that Apple has. - Granted many of them are frivolous, but those who harp on the fart apps are being disingenuous in ignoring the thousands of practical working apps.

One thing IS certain - Apple product continually get by far the highest customer satisfaction rating in the industry - by far!

The lengend of "lack of choice" is a crutch that many use to dismiss Apple products without seriously investigating them.

No confusion here!

I like your story as it goes beyond the usual repetition of facts already known and I'll be adding your blog to my favorites.
Regarding the potential customer confusion I think go a little towards that light level if reporting. I doubt anyone will try to sell on chipset but rather function. For example do you use this more for personal or business type use?

Thus is far less complex than the myriad of choice faced by consumers when selecting a smart phone

Really no need for the BUT !!!

"While skeptics rightly criticize past Microsoft hardware failures like the Zune"
Why rightly? I own a Zune and an iPod and the Zune is just better!
But being better doesn't matter sometimes.
That maybe the story here. But it doesn't mean that products like Zune and Surface shouldn't be made.
As for confusing the consumer (the writer ??) there is no need to be confused.
The ARM version will be a lighter "iPadish" device with better battery life. Designed for browsing, Games and maybe just a little more than light office work.
Don't forget the ARM device will not run the many years worth of software written to run on Windows OS running on Intel.
This is where the Intel version will be fit in. It will be a fully functional PC running the rich back catalog of software that exists for windows.

I'm am very impressed and excited by the Surface.

It's just a shame that the writer feels the need to whine just to fill screen space.

The future of X86 computers?

Valid Point. Microsoft and Intel have vested interests in keeping the obsolete x86 (CISC or Complex Instruction Set Computer) going as it has been there main source of income, but media savvy, fast but low power processors (like ARM Chips) Run RISC or Reduced Instruction Set Code. Microsoft know this and hence the massive task of re coding Windows 8 for the new generation of processors. Software writers however will be slow to catch on, so they have left one foot in the old camp. Perhaps not a wise move, but imagine the anger if Microsoft were to just abandon CISC in favour of the RISC Platform. Acorn Computers in the UK went Bust in the early 1990's trying to market a RISC PC running ARM, years before it's time.

Well perhaps the TIME IS NOW and Microsoft know that?

"Wow what a cool app you got

"Wow what a cool app you got there! What is it called? I want to install it on my Windows-tablet as well"
"Your Windows-tablet is ARM, while mine is x86, so I don't think that app is available for ARM."
"ARM? No, Windows"
"Yes, Windows.... but ARM... not x86"

Good luck :)

Well like it or not, Software

Well like it or not, Software writers are going to have to deal with RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) Code, Just like Morse Code gave way to GMDSS in my line of Work (Ex Marine Radio Officer still serving with BP Shipping as an Electronics Technical Officer) CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing) Code has to give way to RISC so low powered RISC chipsets can function without the heat and power consumption of an x86 CPU inside. How many GB is Windows OS these days? Too much for a mobile device I would bet?

Code density is what it is all about now. RISC Code is many hundreds of times more compact than CISC and for that reason runs faster using less storage. Less storage is less power. Clock speed for clock speed again a RISC CPU will out perform any x86 chipset. Intel know that, that is why they license and manufacture ARM technology. SUN and HP have known that for years that is why the real serious computing power sits in racks of X Windows and Sun SPARC systems, again running RISC CPU's.

It would seem that only some Windows consumers, IT bloggers and x86 Software writers do not know about the power and advantages of RISC vs CISC. They refuse to write APPS for the ARM platform at there own RISC, Ooops RISK, Pun intended ;-)

As a point of historical interest, the ACORN RISC PC (UK) back in 1990 ran a multi tasking, multi platform GUI operating system with drag and drop, contact sensitive menus and all that good multi tasking stuff with the Operating system held in JUST 8MB of ROM. It ran the early 200MHZ StrongARM Chip as a desktop CPU and back then out performed ANY Windows x86 system.

there is no confusion

You skate over the fact that they know what they have purchased.
You want it to run all your PC software the choose Windows 8 pro

As I said look at Android fragmentation and that hasn't hurt it.

You are looking at this assuming the market is only the retail consumer
It isn't. There are two markets here. How do you explain to Apple customers that an Apple laptop can't run software that you can on an Apple iPad?

It is probably more confusing when you have the same software written for both platforms but you have to pay for it again and it is actually different.

iPad != iMac

Consumers know that an iPad is not a Mac. But when say "this device runs Windows" ... the expectation is that its a PC.

This is why the desktop

This is why the desktop should be absent in Windows RT, since explaining that it cannot run Windows Desktop apps would likely be a lot easier for ordinary consumers to grasp than the chipset difference.

As I understand it WinRT-apps in Metro are completely agnostic to the CPU so in that area there isn't a problem.

Excuse me, but who exactly

Excuse me, but who exactly said that Windows Desktop Apps will not run under ARM? Right now a lot of developers are seeing the advantages of RISC Vs CISC and making the changes required to target the hand held and highly portable market. Can we please raise this thread above the Apple Mac bashing mentality and back to the original topic of Microsoft marketing.

I think for once Microsoft are spot on, and I can tell you it has been over 2 decades since I said that last in public. I Also thing Sarah is spot on with her observations, though I am a new comer to this part of her world. All companies, yes even Apple Mac - have a duty to there share holders to make loads of money selling stuff. Apple rely on less than tech savvy consumers who like loads of style and brand name flash and do not know that they are signing up to the Apple Mac Shop for life. Apple sell a great product for them, the consumer is happy, Apple Share Holders are very happy, so why all the bad vibes on this thread?

Windows has a far greater task and Microsoft know that and are also taking steps to maximize there shareholders profit, but they have to avoid upsetting there existing very, very large corporate and consumer base, so they have to do what they have done and keep a foot in both RISC and CISC for a lot longer than I suspect they would like. But MAC FANS remember, MAC used to run *RISC, then ditched HP and went INTEL CISC, so go figure where Mac are going next... Ooops do we see MAC OS running on a Chip set licensed from ARM of Cambridge England soon????

*MAC OS was never pure RISC but HP did use a RISC core on the CPU's to speed thing up back when.

** Few PC or Mac users give a fig about the code or the CPU type used. Again full marks to Sarah Rotman Epp for pointing that fact of life out.

Sorry bu you are wrong

Sorry but you are wrong, Microsoft understands the buisness market very well, Apple does not. I have an iPad an you can't use it for buisness the email client is awful, the connectivity is awful. Everything has to be loaded by iTunes, which is badly designed software and you cant get a document or file off the iPad easily you have to "buy another bit of software" from the AppStore. There is no where to store data like a USB, and you can't email and attach a file , so basically the iPad is just a nice looking toy for women on sofas

The windows 8 tablet is designed to get data on and off easily and to intergrate's with the email clients etc.

If you want a toy which has limited functionality then buy an iPad but if you want to be able to use you email, speadsheets, open zipped documents, transfer files and play games, videos etc then buy a windows 8 tablet.

I still can't view flash site on my iPad and it's till really gets on my nerves when I can see anything. Yet apple fans still think this great...

Where to start? First of all,

Where to start?

First of all, there are two types of businesses (and IT departments). Those who adapt, and those who hold steadfast to old ways of doing things (kind of like trying to give hay to a car, and if the car doesn't take it there must be something wrong with the car).

Plenty of companies use iPads in business. I run a construction business, and we use iPads all the time for plans, drawings, site meetings, etc. It's become an invaluable tool. Something you can pull out even if you're standing in the middle of a field with muckboots on. Never did that with a good ol' fashioned laptop (where to put the damn thing? Let alone, wait for it to boot up, log in, start the program, get asked about installing a few updates,.... yeah...).

So that the iPad is a nice looking toy for women on sofas I think is offensive to both women and businesses.

(PS: Who uses zipped documents any more? Bandwidth used to be a major problem in 28.8-days, but nowadays... you waste more time zipping and unzipping and attachment, than the time you save in transfer).

Oh really

I notice you didn't respond tithe flash, and the fact I still get "this content is unavoidable on your device" it is so frustrating and it only Steve jobs had an issue with flash because it left quick time in the dust, ok html5 is out but that's at least 2 years before older flash sites are changed.

Who uses zipped documents, well I do for security as you can password them.

Ok then create an excel file and then see can attach the file in the email client, the Microsoft version will be able to do this.

Re flash

No my friend - he had a problem with flash for several good reasons:
1- it crashed like crazy
2- it had more security holes than swiss cheese
3- updates for Adobe were unreliable.

This last one was perhaps the bigest one. From 1990-2004 Apple learned what it was like to be under the constraints of key system components (IE and Office) that were in the hands of another company with its own set of conflicting objectives. It nearly drove them out of business.

Just think 1 second Who made IE on Windows OS? Who made it on Mac OS? Who made Office on Win OS? Who made it on Mac? If the two were not compatible, then whose fault was it? The maker of the software NOT the maker of the OS. So the "incompatibility game" was manufactured by MSFT precisely to marginalize Apple and other competition.

This is precisely why Apple has just begun their own Mapping software on iOS. To protect themselves from being held hostage by the provider of a key component. On mobile computing, mapping is a key component.

Finally, it should be noted (returning to the original theme) that Flash is a proprietary system under the whim of one company. The alternative was HTML5 which is an open standard. (In fact Apple gave away WebKit on which many browsers, incl Chrome, are built.)

This is not to say that the new Surface PC is bad - only that others should get their stories straight. The world has moved on from Flash - and we are all better for it.


Look the world of programming and development might have moved on from flash, but the still lots of site that are still using it, something that is routinely ignored.

I have had a iPad for over a year now and that was the argument at the time, well you do need flash etc but still nearly a year later and I'm still some websites I can't see....... Frustrating.

Look we are in a recession, and a company is hardly going to splash out on another website because a few devices cant view it unless you market is based on them, so flash sites WILL be around for a few years yet, Apples pig headedness not letting your customers be able to view a site or is just plain wrong and bad marketing, yes It might drain the battery, but that is my choice if I deem it necessary

If you have an iPad the how many messages saying " this is not available on your device " I still get about 50%, so until then i won't shut up

Look at the bigger picture, a

Look at the bigger picture, a few years further out. What would be the alternative? If iPhone and iPad included flash, there would be no urgent (or motivating) factor forcing websites to abandon Flash for a more efficient format like HTML5. Then we would be where we always would have been... humping along, and the manufacturers putting out new revisions of hardware with bigger and better (faster) processors, still giving the same crappy user experience.

If companies in a recession are not motivated to move to HTML5 when the iPad does NOT support flash, imagine then how long it would take if the iPad supported Flash "but recommended that website owners moved to HTML5"....

Consumers don't seem to care.

Lack of Flash does not seem to have impacted sales. Consumers - the non-geek ones anyway - don't seem to care.

Oh that comment gets my Vote

Oh that comment gets my Vote too and I quote "First of all, there are two types of businesses (and IT departments). Those who adapt, and those who hold steadfast to old ways of doing things" I work for a Multi National, BP Shipping and we are still lumbered with a IT Department forcing us to use Windoze XP and IE 7. Sigh... Bring on the ARM Chips and portable pads running Windows 8 I say. Of course I could stay with Intel's x86 CISC CPU's but who wants to carry a car battery along to power your new Windows 8 tablet?

I think you misjudge the tablet buying public

I think you are misjudging the tablet buying public who tend to be somewhat tech savvy. I really do not think there will be much confusion as you have suggested. Those who want a straight tablet will opt for RT and those who want to run pc style apps such as those used by laptop users will opt for the Intel chipset QED.

Price comparisons will hurt

It is clear to those who know that you are getting a whole lot more tablet in both devices than you are from the competition. The problem will be how to maintain price parity with the competition when you have rock bottom Android tablets and the iPad.

It will be up to good marketing OH DEAR ! - sorry MS it is just that you have a terrible track record in marketing!

Marketing needs to make it clear that this is more than an Android and more than an iPad. Target the audience at the mid level and ......

Play up the limitations iPad (no flash) can't run office, doesn't run most of the apps you do today (which is why most of you still have a PC), more powerful, can actually create real (and professional) content rather than type a few notes and pages.

Then - Can still play games but really powerful ones, lots of multimedia, the real Web. It's windows so you know its secure. Accessories not at rip off prices

All of this for $100 more/less than the competition

It will be very hard for people not to compare it to the iPad and start talking about where is iTunes and where is angry birds etc. If they get in early and differentiate and keep doing so in the marketing they may just blow the doors off of the competition.

This is clearly a bold play by MS and as the story states they have a few golden bullets in their arsenal - bundling with XBox or even Windows phone would be a killer combination. By a double pack (Xbox, with Live subscription and surface for 50% off) etc.

I for one can't wait to pickup an RT device. If runs office and a browser and flash etc. what more do I need!?

To my mind this is just the

To my mind this is just the latest from Microsoft in continuing to distance itself somewhat from its hardware resellers. It started with Windows 7. Up until then, every release from Microsoft had required oodles more disk and memory to work effectively (think Windows Vista). It had relied on the hardware manufacturers to come up with innovative designs, which they just weren't doing when compared with what Apple were up to - and still are. But Windows 7 ran on existing boxes - you didn't need to upgrade. Microsoft must overall have felt let down by Dell, HP, Toshiba and so on. So with Windows 8, Microsoft are just not taking any chances. They are absolutely determined to stay ahead of the game in this case, even if it means competing with their own resellers. Steve Jobs must be laughing up there somewhere though...he knew he was right all make a great product, in the end you have to build your own hardware to match your own software.

Microsoft doesn't need to

Microsoft doesn't need to sell this in stores. Apple does it because they want a monopoly in the tablet market. Microsoft wants other companies to build products too.

I think your line "Consumers

I think your line "Consumers aren’t used to thinking..." sums up society these days for certain.

People are very lazy these days, TV, radio, and other such media are all dumbed down to suit our newer lazier society.

"...too much choice is overwhelming for consumers..." - as a whole this is an encouragement of the above.

People are increasingly too lazy to do the most menial tasks, and this is encouraged by novelty, not very functional devices, such as the many versions of each Apple release, as well as many other manufacturers releases.

As long as opinion such as this exists, the world is falling ever increasingly into a dark hole of idiocy.

We don't have the time

My wife isn't lazy. Neither are my mother and father etc. They simply have other interest and none of those involve become a geek. The idea that my wife - a health care worker - needs to learn about bits and bytes and processors etc just to purchase a computing device is as lubricious as expecting her to learn about rack and pinion steering and fuel-injection and dual over head cams just to buy a car.

Perhaps geeks should have to get a medical degree and an MBA before they choose a doctor and financial planner.

Geeks! Begone!!!!

It is precisely for that

It is precisely for that reason we are lumbered with Microsoft's Operating System on Intel's x86 line of CISC processors... People seem to gravitate towards the lowest common denominator for quality and price. Just as Beta Max lost out to VHS Video recorders, not always the best software and hardware combination wins and becomes the 'global standard'. Do humans NEVER learn from past mistakes... Well it would seem from Khurt Williams post, they don't and for the very reasons he has given.

HELLO people, wake up, take notice and choose wisely or you will always get more of the same, shafted by corporate greed and the marketing men... How do you think Apple do as well as they do... Well they bank on humans not taking notice of the stuff under the bonnet and going for the best looks and cool advertisting sigh... Why anyone would buy a machine that locks out choice and makes it as hard as possible to avoid always putting your hand in your pocket to pay Apple for new media is totally beyond me.

Once again people, Reduced Instruction Set computing (RISC) is the Future... x86 (CISC) and the existing bloatware code which supports them is the past. So you can get with it or remain in the past. Your call. Microsoft has wisely chosen to move with the future and re code Windows for RISC. I am not sure at this stage how many legacy applications will run under the Windows 8 RT (RISC/ARM) code but I sure as heck intend to find out just as soon as I can.

"Consumers aren’t used to

"Consumers aren’t used to thinking about chipsets"

A strange statement to make given the amount of money Intel spend on advertising.

For the record, the reason

For the record, the reason most IT depts use windows is because Windows is a whole family of software for enterprise and networked environments, something that Apple does not offer. It is not because they are stuck in old ways. There are very few other competitors in this market, I can think of only Novell's netware as the only competitor to MS in this area and their market share is very small.
Using Windows servers is an effective way of managing a enterprise networks and services.
The reason why most IT depts wont connect a Mac/Macbook/iPad to their networks is because they are a pain in the butt to manage in such an environment.

This coming October looks

This coming October looks very exciting indeed. I cannot wait! Windows 8 is sure to eliminate the iPads dominance due to it actually allowing you to get work done. Not only does the windows surface combined with windows 8 and office 2013 look fantastic but it actually allows you to do work. Unlike the iPad that is heavily marked for it aesthetics and play around os, cause thats all you can do with it play! Anyone who says iPads are the best like the apple fag Alexander, are so drawn in by apples advertisments and the portrayal of the device that they, like other apple believers believe it is the best and everything else is crap. Well I have news for you apple is shit if you are really into computers. Oh and by the way iPads are connected to tablets like the surface tablet so suck shit.

Windows 8 Rocks!!!

This coming October looks very exciting indeed. I cannot wait! Windows 8 is sure to eliminate the iPads dominance due to it actually allowing you to get work done. Not only does the windows surface combined with windows 8 and office 2013 look fantastic but it actually allows you to do work. Unlike the iPad that is heavily marked for it aesthetics and play around os, cause thats all you can do with it play! Anyone who says iPads are the best like the apple fag Alexander, are so drawn in by apples advertisments and the portrayal of the device that they, like other apple believers believe it is the best and everything else is crap. Well I have news for you apple is shit if you are really into computers. Oh and by the way iPads are connected to tablets like the surface tablet so suck shit.

I agree with you totally

You are absolutely right in your comment, " apples play around os". Windows surface will be the best device on the market when it arrives in October.

You bring up a great point

You bring up a great point about choice. Microsoft is giving the consumer masses too much credit if they think they'll actually go and do the research to find out why the x86 version of the surface is different and why it's so much more expensive. Many consumers will just see an advertisement for the x86 and be turned away by price point alone, not understanding that it's basically a laptop.

MS undoubtedly knows this and is planning some sort of differentiator campaign. I can't wait to see how they do it.