Microsoft has some impressive Windows 7 tablets coming to market from OEM partners, but to say the software giant has an uphill climb in this market would be an understatement. Its lack of urgency was underscored on Friday when an executive dismissed the notion that Apple has cornered the tablet market.
"Devices are going to go and come," Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International, told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Courtois said cloud computing will be a more important aspect of IT infrastructure going forward. "This is a deep transformation of the scenario in IT over the last decade," Courtois told Reuters.
It makes sense that Courtois would feel this way since Microsoft is spending billions of dollars to build data centers to deliver its cloud services and support its Windows Azure infrastructure-as-a-service platform. However, his comments are somewhat odd given that the emergence of tablets has come in large part from an expansion of cloud and virtualization infrastructure.
"Microsoft has made a huge bet on cloud computing so it is natural for them to see it as the most important thing. The problem I see is that the tablet and the cloud are interconnected tightly -- one doesn't work well without the other," said Clinton Fitch, a Dallas-based Microsoft Windows Mobile MVP (Most Valuable Professional).
Microsoft, whose initial tablet strategy failed to take hold a decade ago, can't be happy about the way the market has embraced Apple's iPad. Microsoft's strategy of shrinking the Windows environment down to the smaller form factor didn't work then and, in the opinion of many partners, isn't likely to threaten the iPad and Android tablets.
Without reading too much into Courtois' comments, it seems that Microsoft believes that real money lies in the returns it expects to reap over the next several years from its massive cloud expenditure. "This gives me the impression that while Microsoft is working hard to get into the tablet market, they see it as a battle that will be difficult to win with the iPad so well established and the Galaxy Tab making big gains," said Fitch.
Allen Nogee, an analyst with In-Stat in Scottsdale, Ariz., has a similar impression. "There is no question that Microsoft has had a difficult time in positioning themselves [in the tablet space]," said Nogee. "It sounds like they are moving on, hoping that their work in cloud will eventually pay off."
However, Chris De Herrera, a Los Angeles-based Windows Mobile MVP and editor of the Pocket PC FAQ, still thinks there's time for Microsoft's Windows-tablets-strategy to win out, particularly because current tablets haven't been optimized for the Web or cloud computing.
"In fact, no changes have been made to the HTML standard, or how we use cloud computing, that are specific to tablets," he said.