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Ballmer said the decision to create the Surface tablet line came as a result of Microsoft’s decision to not cede any market space to Apple as it brought Windows 8 to market.
“What we said at the [Surface] launch sort of speaks to all of it,which is as we brought Windows 8 to market we made a decision that we just were not going to leave any [space] exposed to Apple in terms of an innovation boundary,” he said. “We were going to think about things holistically. We were going to make sure that this particular form factor that was all the best of a PC and all the best of a tablet, got all of the best innovation we could bring and not leave that exposed to potential vagaries that may come out of our [hardware partner] ecosystem while it is getting galvanized. And we made that decision and moved forward down that path.”
As to the impact Surface will have on Microsoft’s top and bottom line, Ballmer said he expects Microsoft to have a “decent-size business” with Surface.
“Whether we have a decent-size business or better than that will depend on how galvanized our [hardware OEM] partners really get around the Windows 8 opportunity,” he said.
The decision to break from the past and enter the tablet hardware business with Surface has received rave reviews from Microsoft partners at the conference.
“I applaud them for being aggressive and moving forward with [Surface] and developing their ecosystem beyond what they have traditionally done,” said Kevin Murai, president and CEO of Synnex, one of the top IT product distributors. “For us, the world is changing. All partners we deal with are evolving. If it is the right move for Microsoft, we certainly embrace it too.”
David Powell, vice president of managed services for TekLinks, a Birmingham, Ala.-based Microsoft hosting partner, called Microsoft’s decision to bring Surface to market a “great move” that has the potential to shake up the market.
“For Microsoft to control the quality and user experience, they had to control the hardware,” said Powell. “For all of Apple’s heavy handedness and control, the Apple experience is always the same. It is clean and tight. For Microsoft to compete with that they had to control the hardware.”
All that said, Powell noted that Microsoft is late to the tablet game. “They are entering a market where they are not the dominant player and that is unfamiliar territory for Microsoft,” he said. “Today 90 percent of the market is Apple iPad. The question is will Surface be good enough to get someone to put their $600 iPad in the drawer and buy a Surface?”