Microsoft Exec Downplays Android Tablet Threat

The latest example came Tuesday when Steve Guggenheimer, vice president of the OEM division at Microsoft, suggested that Google's early momentum with Android on tablets doesn't mean Windows won't eventually dominate in this space as it has in netbooks.

"There are always lots of noises at the beginning of new category," Guggenheimer told the The Wall Street Journalat the Computex conference in Taiwan.

Later, Guggenheimer offered the traditional Microsoft argument that open source isn't as free as some folks might think due to the associated support costs. "There are two things you have to look at: Is free really free, and what does that mean over time?" he told the The Wall Street Journal.

While most of Google's progress with Android to date has been in smartphones, the OS is also gaining traction in tablet devices. Both Michael Dell and Acer CEO Gianfranco Lanci unveiled Android-powered tablet devices in keynote speeches last month, and Dell's Streak tablet will arrive this summer in the U.S. through AT&T. Verizon and Google have also reportedly been working on a tablet device.

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Meanwhile, although Microsoft is working with Asus and MSI on Windows 7 tablets, the Windows 7-powered HP slate tablet that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed at CES this year has disappeared from the industry radar. HP appears to be centering its tablet strategy on webOS, which is a major blow to Microsoft's goal of having Windows 7 run on all types of devices, and will give Microsoft yet another tablet competitor.

Despite Microsoft's claims to the contrary, some partners believe the open source aspect of Android makes it the biggest source of concern for Microsoft.

"With Android I believe that there is a greater fear for Microsoft," said Chris De Herrera, a Los Angeles-based Microsoft Windows Mobile MVP. "Android is scalable and portable, so it could easily become the de-facto standard for mainstream Linux users. If it does, then this would threaten the Windows dynasty."

What's clear from Guggenheimer's comments is that Microsoft thinks tablets will follow the same market trajectory as netbooks, with early Linux inroads eventually being overwhelmed by the popularity --- some might say superiority -- of the Windows user experience. But Android is still devouring Microsoft's lunch in smartphones, and is even becoming a challenger to the iPhone.

Windows Phone 7 devices are slated to arrive late this year, and Silverlight developers may end up going to town on the new platform and building apps that make Apple and Google green with envy. But for now, Microsoft is trailing its foes by a considerable margin, and its downplaying of Android sounds pretty unconvincing.