Lenovo: We Aren't Sweating Microsoft Surface

Despite Microsoft’s recent admission that it will compete directly against its own OEM partners with Surface, its homegrown Windows 8 tablet PC, Lenovo, one of Microsoft’s biggest hardware partners, is excited about the Surface release.

And its relationship with Microsoft, Lenovo said, is "closer than ever."

According to Preston Taylor, senior global product manager in Lenovo's ThinkPad group, Surface will only help generate more excitement around the Windows 8 ecosystem as a whole, ultimately helping -- not harming -- Microsoft partners like Lenovo.

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"On the whole, the Surface tablet does a lot for the Windows ecosystem, and we believe that Microsoft announcing Surface ... is going to really bring excitement to the Windows 8 ecosystem and help to drive that," Taylor told CRN.

Lenovo unveiled Thursday its ThinkPad Tablet 2, the first tablet from the company to be optimized specifically for Windows 8. While it will go head-to-head with Surface upon its launch in October, Taylor said Lenovo is not concerned about the competition.

"Our general position is that the excitement in having strong, quality products in the Windows 8 ecosystem will be good for the ecosystem and ultimately great for ThinkPad," he said.

Lenovo's reaction to Surface is antithetical to that of fellow Microsoft OEM partner Acer, which said this week that it may start seeking "other alternatives" to Windows now that Microsoft has made its hardware debut.

"If Microsoft ... is going to do hardware business, what should we do? Should we still rely on Microsoft, or should we find other alternatives?" said Campbell Kan, Acer's president for personal computer global operations, in an interview Monday with The Financial Times.

Acer chairman and CEO J.T. Wang also told The Financial Times that Acer has reached out to Microsoft, urging it to rethink its entry into the tablet market.

"It will create a huge negative impact for the [worldwide computing] ecosystem, and other brands may take a negative reaction," Wang said Acer has told Microsoft. "It is not something you are good at, so please think twice."

Microsoft itself acknowledged that Surface will create a new competitive dynamic between itself and its partners, writing in its annual 10-K report last month: "Our Surface devices will compete with products made by our OEM partners, which may affect their commitment to our platform."

Other Microsoft OEM partners including Dell and HP have expressed plans to go to market with Windows 8 devices this fall, but have been relatively quiet with their reactions to Surface.

NEXT: Surface, ThinkPad Tablet 2 In The Channel

Microsoft's Surface tablet also came under fire by Microsoft channel partners, after many felt snubbed my Microsoft’s decision to not sell the tablet through the channel. While they praised the tablet’s chic look and feel, channel partners told CRN that Microsoft’s corporate accounts were its "bread and butter," and that the software giant’s reach into these accounts is significantly limited without the channel.

Lenovo, for its part, told CRN that it does plan to offer its new ThinkPad Tablet 2 through its resellers.

"Yes, we are going to be selling the ThinkPad Tablet 2 through the usual channels, and we encourage retailers, resellers and distributors to resell the ThinkPad Tablet 2," Taylor said.

Douglas Grosfield, president and CEO of Ontario-based solution provider and Lenovo partner Xylotek Solutions said the ThinkPad Tablet 2 will give Lenovo channel partners new inroads in the enterprise market, as it touts more robust security features than competing Android or iOS devices, and it comes with a business-ready Windows 8 Pro operating system.

"The fact it will be running a Microsoft operating system designed for the corporate environment will open the door for partners to have those conversations with clients who resisted tablets before due to risks and complexities inherent in introducing iOS and Android tablets into the workplace, integrating nicely into the vast majority of business’ IT environments already running entirely on Microsoft products," Grosfield said in an emailed statement to CRN.