Microsoft Tablet Strategy: More Business than Consumer?

Steve Ballmer's WPC 2010 keynote hints at Microsoft's intentions for the burgeoning slate market.

Despite being a pioneer in tablet PCs, Microsoft has failed to translate its ambitions into a successful slate-computing strategy. Adding insult to injury is the fact that archrival Apple has leaped past Redmond with the success launch of the iPad, a consumer-friendly tablet that's proven wildly popular thus far.

The result: Microsoft's playing catch-up again, not unlike the predicament it faces in the mobile computing world, where it lags far behind Apple and Google. But unlike the phone market, tablet computing is in its infancy, and Microsoft has a good chance of attaining major player status--provided it focuses on what it does best. And that, it seems, is to set its sights on business users, where Microsoft's core (and most profitable) products, including Windows, Office, Exchange, and SharePoint, dominate.

Calling Mr. Slate

Redmond plans to migrate its Windows 7 operating system to tablet devices, a strategy outlined by company CEO Steve Ballmer in his Monday keynote at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Washington, D.C. The company's traditional PC hardware partners, including Dell, Samsung, and Toshiba, will build Windows 7-based tablets, some of which will ship over the next few months, Ballmer said.

And while Microsoft's blustery boss did mention (without much detail) that these new tablets would "appeal to end users," his speech focused on the business benefits of Microsoft's slate strategy, one that would allow enterprises to support tablets via today's Microsoft management tools. Furthermore, Redmond's cloud services will play a large role in the company's tablet ecosystem, IDG News reports.

Ballmer's speech focused less on the end user appeal of tablets--such as how Microsoft is working to optimize Windows 7 for touchscreens--and more on back-end integration. Windows-based tablets and other thin-client devices, for instance, will work with the company's new Windows Azure Appliance, a hardware/software platform that's essentially a private cloud. Rather than risk a security breach by storing your information on a third-party Internet server, Azure lets you maintain your data in-house--a boon to large enterprises and governments.

Of course, given the business focus of Microsoft's WPC, it's not surprising that Ballmer's tablet pitch would focus on enterprise integration. His keynote, however, also suggests that Redmond's tablet strategy may focus more on vertical business markets--such as inventory and medical--where slate devices could prove essential. Microsoft's strengths are in the enterprise, and it makes sense for the company to adopt a business-friendly strategy in the burgeoning tablet market.

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
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