Solution providers almost universally praise the Surface tablets themselves.
"I love it. I think it's a home run," Success Computer’s Thorsell said. "It's sexy enough to attract the bring-your-own-device crowd, yet functional enough for business users. Finally, we're looking at an alternative to the iPad for business."
"It definitely has some coolness, which is needed," said Steve Rubin, president of WorkITsafe, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based managed solution provider and Microsoft small business specialist. "From what I've seen, it's pretty exciting." He specifically cited the Surface tablet's innovative Touch Cover keyboard, noting that he hears from business customers who use tablets that they'd like to add a keyboard to the touchscreen devices.
By entering the tablet space, Microsoft is putting pressure on other computing hardware vendors to make better products, said Bob Dutkowsky, CEO of distributor Tech Data. "From where we sit it looks like a fascinating platform. Hardware vendors will have to innovate more aggressively to keep up. That's good for distribution."
Several solution providers said the price Microsoft ultimately sets for the tablets will be a factor in how competitive it is. "I don't know how much these things are going to cost," said Ric Opal, vice president at Peters & Associates, a Gold-level Microsoft partner based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.
Microsoft, which will announce pricing closer to the tablets' ship date, has only said their price tags are "expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC."
Partners also universally see opportunities to work with the Surface tablets.
Power Consulting Group resells PCs from Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, as well as some Apple iPad tablets. Parisella said he would sell the Surface tablets if given the opportunity. And he finds it hard to believe Microsoft won't make the product available to channel partners through distributors. "Microsoft is still selling everything they have through distributors," he said.
Dutkowsky at Tech Data, which sold more than $1 billion in tablet computers last year, is thinking along the same lines.
"The more tablets that come into the market from a vendor with the strength and breadth of a Microsoft, the better we are. I can't tell you how many times I get a call from a VAR who says, 'My customer wants me to bid several tablets.' It's obvious what one of them is going to be, but after that, we have Android solutions and a BlackBerry solution we can point to. Now we're going to have a Windows solution we can point to."
Dutkowsky was quick to note that Microsoft hasn't said anything to Tech Data about how -- or if -- it plans to distribute the Surface product through the channel. "We didn't know about it before they announced it," he said. "We'll make our presentations to Microsoft and hope we get access to selling it, because there's a lot we can do to help Microsoft."
NEXT: Surface Tablets And The Channel Will Be A Hot Topic At WPC