Portrait of a Marriage: Microsoft and its OEMs

I have been looking forward to seeing the Acer Iconia W700. I knew it would be a thick tablet running an Intel Core processor and thus would have a fan (which is known to be undesirable for a tablet they say), but I still wanted to get a hands on.

And while you can purchase the device online, you can’t walk into your local Best Buy, Staples, or Office Max and try one. And see that is a problem.

If you have been reading the technology section of the news other than Apple and sometimes Google, a big story has been around the slow death of the PC. Usually the story surrounds Windows 8 and its inability to turn around the flattening sales of desktops and laptops.

One aspect of the story, and one I’ve written about (sometimes too much) is the debate around Windows 8 and traditional PC devices and how confusing or intuitive it is for users. I’m not going to go into this (its late) but the gist is no one wants Windows 8 because its not Windows 7 which was built for desktops and what people want are desktops and laptops. Now the flipside to this is that what people want isn’t a laptop or a desktop, but a tablet.

The reality at least that I can ascertain is that the growth in mainstream computing is in tablets. It doesn’t matter if we are talking the small seven inch tablets or the larger ten inch models; people are moving to tablets like salmon going upstream to spawn.

Now the hardware makers know this. They’ve known about it since the announcement of the iPad in 2007. They were the one’s who rushed Android tablets before Google was ready (see first generation Galaxy Tab). One of the forgotten aspects of the the rush to tablets is the summer/spring before the first big tablet rush, a number of OEMs planned to bring out devices running Windows Embedded to market. Then Google announced Honeycomb, the Android OS version built for tablets, and suddenly all those Windows Embedded tablets became Android Tabs.

Let’s just say they didn’t fair well.

Now all the while their hardware partners were building and sometimes floundering building tablets, Microsoft began working on Windows 8. Windows 8 would be optimized for touch and given a touch first interface, something suitable for tablets which the Redmond company rightfully saw as the next big form factor.

Now I imagine when the OEMs were not seeing their return on their Android tablets and they caught wind about Windows 8 they got happy. That was until the summer of last year when Microsoft announced two tablet devices which signaled that Microsoft was entering the hardware business.

Which brings me back to Acer. Acer in the post Surface announcement has been quite vocal in its displeasure of Microsoft entering hardware. At first they were dismissive, saying Microsoft would falter. Later they said it was a distraction. Now they are openly hostile about Windows 8; even making statements where they said they may switch to some other OS. Now Acer wasn’t alone, HP made a couple of statements, but not to the extent Acer has.

All this talk would be well and good, OEMs sticking it to Microsoft and all that, if not for the fact that OEMs went looking for greener pastures first.

PC makers in the last few years have been making it clear that Microsoft and Windows will share space with Ubuntu, Android, and Chrome. Like a frequently cheating spouse, PC makers expected Microsoft to sit patiently at home while they ran in the streets. The Surface announcement was declaration that if OEMs can move to offering multiple operating systems, then Redmond could move into hardware.

And given the slim pickings of Windows devices I’m glad they did. Windows 8 was built for the tablet market. Yes if you can use it on a desktop or a laptop, but it was built for the tablet form factor.

Acer announced two Windows tablet PCs for the launch, I haven’t seen either in my local electronic stores. The same Acer complaining about Windows 8 is not a factor in the market because its product isn’t on the shelf. Except for ASUS with its Windows RT tablet, only Microsoft has offered a Windows based tablet in stores. Only recently have HP and Samsung devices shown up.

People questioning Windows 8 tend to overlook the obvious, it is aimed at the tablet market. OEMs who keep trying to push none touch devices are not going to make headway. And as long as OEMs make devices running other systems they should expect Microsoft to keep working on hardware. 

image: Bloomberg    

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