Microsoft Monday unveiled a pair of tablet computers dubbed "Surface" in a bold move that thrusts the world's largest software company into uncharted hardware waters.
Microsoft said the tablets would be sold in Microsoft retail stores in the U.S. and through "select online Microsoft stores," but did not specifically mention plans for channel sales.
The announcement, coming after days of speculation about Microsoft's press event in Los Angeles, will put the software developer on a collision course with Apple and its popular iPad -- and possibly with Microsoft's own hardware manufacturer partners.
"It embodies hardware and software working together," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, unveiling the new products. Emphasizing that the new Surface tablets are designed for workplace and home use, Ballmer said: "People want to work and to play. They want to be on their desk and on the go. Surface fulfills that dream."
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Microsoft is introducing two tablet products: Surface for Windows 8 Pro, an Intel Core-based tablet that runs the edition of the upcoming Windows 8 operating system designed for Intel-based PCs; and Surface for Windows RT, a tablet running on ARM microprocessors.
The Surface for Windows RT tablets will be available when Windows 8 ships -- widely expected sometime this fall -- and Surface for Windows 8 Pro will be available about 90 days later.
Microsoft is counting on the tablet products to help it make up ground in the booming tablet market where the Apple iPad and tablets running Google's Android operating system dominate. While there are some tablet products running Windows 7 on the market, Microsoft has been counting heavily on Windows 8 and Windows RT to help get it into the game.
While Microsoft has generally left it to hardware partners such as Samsung and Lenovo to build hardware to run Microsoft software, Microsoft apparently decided that it needed to move on its own to become a tablet market player.
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