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Microsoft Unveils Its 'Surface' Tablet Computer

Unlike Apple, which makes both the hardware and software that power its Mac computers, iPhones and iPad tablets,Microsoft has traditionally ceded the hardware design, development and manufacturing to partners just as Dell Inc.(DELL) and Hewlett-Packard Co.. By selling its own computers, Microsoft would put itself in competition with thesehardware partners, which Microsoft relies on to sell computers to businesses and consumers.

The new Microsoft Surface

"This is the new Microsoft Surface," Ballmer says, grasping what looks like a pretty conventional looking tabletdevice. "I as a matter of fact want you to take the time today to get to know Microsoft Surface," Ballmer says, as he introducesSteve Sinofsky, the head of Microsoft's Windows division.

Ballmer is touting Microsoft's history of technology in hardware: Xbox, the earliest computer mouse, for instance. ButMicrosoft has a scant history of building its own computing gadgetry, with a wildly divergent spectrum of success.

Will a Microsoft tablet find success of the Xbox--the videogame console into which the company pumped billions ofdollars until it was the most popular videogame machine of its kind? Or will it be more like the Zune or the Kin,Microsoft's homegrown failures in the realms of the iPod and the mobile phone, respectively? Or will it be a middlingbreed, something like Microsoft's fine nevertheless largely invisible hardware business, which makes a few gadgets such ascomputer mice?

"Today we want to add another piece, another bit of excitement, to that Windows 8 story," Ballmer tells the crowd. Thevery origin of Microsoft was predicated on hardware and software pushing each other to be the best they could be,Microsoft says. And you thought Microsoft was a software company?

Steve Ballmer, the Microsoft CEO, takes the stage. He starts talking about Microsoft innovations in cloud computing,entertainment with the Xbox etc. "Windows is the heart and soul of Microsoft" in everything the company does, he says.

The Xbox 720

--A new Xbox called the Xbox 720. Various blogs report that an old product roadmap was leaked online that tells all about plans to launch the new Xbox 720 in 2013, as so then as a devicecalled the XTV that streams content between the Xbox 360, phone and PC.

Steve Ballmer, the Microsoft CEO, takes the stage. He starts talking about Microsoft innovations in cloud computing,research, etc. "Windows is the heart and soul of Microsoft" in everything the company does, he says.

Good question. Hopefully we'll get some answers today. The backdrop: Microsoft is set to launch this year Windows 8,the first Windows operating system designed for tablet computers. Does a homegrown tablet mean Microsoft is worried itsPC-making allies won't produce good enough tablets to compete with the iPad? Remember that Microsoft has been leftbasically in the dust as two huge computing trends--the rise of smartphones and the sudden popularity of tabletcomputers--upend the computing world Microsoft has known and dominated for decades. Windows 8 is Microsoft's first realeffort to push into the tablet market. If Windows 8 devices don't sell so then...so then...it would be bad for Microsoft.

Today's event is stealing attention from other activity related to Microsoft. Other Microsofthappenings include: The company's pending deal to buy business-software maker Yammer for in broad outline $1.2 billion,disclosures of continued financial troubles at key mobile ally Nokia Corp., and an expected disclosure this weekof updated version of the Windows Phone operating system. Oh, and in progress is like as not the biggest reboot ever ofMicrosoft's Windows operating system.

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