Surface Giveaway Goes On: Microsoft Offers WPC Attendees Deeply Discounted Tablet PCs

Microsoft is offering heavily discounted Microsoft Surface tablet PCs to attendees of the upcoming Worldwide Partner Conference, the company said Thursday.

During the July 7 through 11 span of WPC in Houston, attendees will be able to purchase the Surface RT with 64 GB and touch cover for $99.99 and the Surface Pro with 128 GB as a standalone for $399.99, said Jon Roskill, Microsoft corporate vice president and head of the worldwide partner group, in a blog post.

Best Buy is currently selling the Surface RT with 32GB for $499.99 ($599.99 with the Touch Cover) and the Surface Pro with 64GB for $899.99.

[Related: The Windows RT Effect ]

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The move follows an offer earlier this week from Microsoft to provide free Surface RT tablets to as many as 10,000 teachers attending this month's International Society for Technology in Education conference. And between now and Aug. 31, K-12 schools and colleges can buy Surface RT tablets with 32 GB for $199 ($249 with the touch cover.)

Microsoft also offered discounted Surface tablets to attendees of its recent TechEd conference, although that offer was limited to one per attendee.

Microsoft is believed to have huge inventories of unsold Surface tablets, especially those running Windows RT -- as many as 4 million units, according to some reports. All these discounted offers have generated speculation that Microsoft is readying a new generation of Surface tablets and the company is seeking ways to unload the products it has on hand.

"We want to make the Surface easily available to our WPC partners, who tend to be some of the most invested and innovative partners Microsoft has the pleasure of working with," Roskill said in his blog. "In deep appreciation of our WPC partners and with much excitement for the opportunities we share in devices and services, we are excited to announce a special offer for WPC partner participants."

Microsoft began shipping the Surface tablet with the Windows RT operating system back in October and there have been reports that the product has not been selling well. Earlier this year Microsoft began selling the Surface Pro with Windows 8.

NEXT: Partner Support For Surface Is Mixed

Microsoft has restricted sales of both products to its own website and Microsoft retail stores, as well as a few retailers like Best Buy and Staples, passing over its traditional channel partners in the process.

"The fact that Microsoft is making this move seems to confirm what we've all believed: that they aren't really selling," said Erik Thorsell, president of Success Computer Consulting. A Microsoft partner, Thorsell described himself as a believer in Windows 8, but not Surface. "Frankly, I don't think price is the big challenge here. ... I think it's lack of channel support for Surface because we can't make a living selling it," he told CRN

"So, I might buy a Surface at WPC because the price is low ... but it won't cause me to bring it to clients as a demo, because I prefer to demonstrate hardware that we resell. My clients will continue to see Lenovo equipment with Windows 8 in spite of this announcement."

Several Microsoft partners took a more upbeat view about the offer and said they intend to take advantage of it.

"I get the feeling this is more about driving additional excitement at Tech Ed and now WPC than about liquidating inventory," New Signature CEO Christopher Hertz told CRN. "I have to say, a lot of our team saw the announcement and immediately were asking to go to WPC just so they could get their hands on one of these very cool devices."

New Signature is a Washington D.C.-based Microsoft partner, and Hertz said his company's sales team all use Surface Pro and Surface RT tablets. "But [we] will definitely be buying as many Surfaces as we can at WPC. They are such incredibly useful devices that I would love to have one for every person in the company -- [we] just have to convince our CFO to budget for that next year."

"They might be trying to seed the partners to drive momentum," said Ric Opal, vice president at Peters & Associates, a gold-level Microsoft partner based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. "Once I bought my [Windows phone-based] Lumia 920, I actually like it more than the iPhone." On the WPC offer: "I sent an email to all employees and my inbox is slammed with 'Yes and how many can I have k...'"