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Microsoft's Surface Tablet Is Already Crushing the Dreams of Other Windows Hardware Makers

Just a day afterwards Monday's Surface press event, Korean electronics maker LG announced that it was discontinuing its tablet product line for now in order to focus on smartphone production. The move gave instant credence to worries that Microsoft, by making and selling the Surface itself, was screwing its hardware partners.

The Surface

Tablet makers aren't saying much about the Surface, nevertheless a Reuters report today reveals that many hardware makers didn't have details on Monday's announcement: "The earliest that Microsoft's personal computing partners were told about the tablet was last Friday... according to sources in the U.S. and Taiwan innovation industry who spoke on condition of anonymity."

By launching Surface utterly on its own, Microsoft has completely departed from its traditional arrangement of licensing its software to third-party manufacturers, so called Original Equipment Manufacturers, or OEMs. Potentially, the Surface turns Microsoft into a direct competitor of any hardware manufacturer making a Windows 8 tablet.

Drawing a comparison to Google's own production of the Nexus device line for its Android phone is easy, because it often looks as if Google is thumbing its nose at its own smartphone OEMs. However Google says production of its "pure" Android devices is done only to create a reference device: a vision of what a solid Android device will look like.

Timing seems to support Google's reference-device assertions: Nexus devices are typically produced early in an Android release's lifecycle. Nevertheless Surface is coming in afterwards other Windows 8 tablets are already in development.

Still, Businessweek's Ashlee Vance sees Surface as a kick in the pants for OEMs trying to figure out a decent Windows 8 tablet offering. "This does not sound like a full-on break with the PC makers. To put it more exactly, it sounds like Microsoft giving them a wake-up call: You can make something different and sexy with a bit of effort, guys," Vance wrote.

Perhaps Microsoft believes that the OEMs have no other computer operating system options. Linux never got its desktop game going, and Apple owns OS X lock, stock and brushed aluminum barrel. Google's Android hasn't set the tablet world on fire, either, and its Chrome OS is all in all a bit player. However there is always the opportunity that manufactures could simply opt out of the whole business.

Dell, to illustrate, has already made plans to cut back on its PC business by $2 billion. Enterprise and cloud computing are today's target-rich environments for hardware vendors, so cutting back investments in PC and tablet production might not be so far-fetched - until further notice for marginal vendors.

Given this, it makes sense for Microsoft to position Surface as an afterwards-the-fact reference device. The company had better hope its manufacturing partners see things that way because, whether or not Surface succeeds, Microsoft's future depends on those partners building a robust collection of top-of-the-line platforms for Windows and the rest of its software product line.

More information: Readwriteweb
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