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Microsoft trails badly in Tablets

The short term outlook for Microsoft in the tablet market looks bleak


Published: 4 November, 2010


The short term outlook for Microsoft in the tablet market looks bleak. Here’s why.

Windows XP ended its life this week after a nine-year run, having lasted beyond the lifetime of its successor, Windows Vista. Microsoft will no longer allow computer makers to install Windows XP on the PCs they make. Instead they must install Windows 7, which is far and away Microsoft’s most reliable OS since Windows 2000. It’s also the most successful, having already outsold Vista.

HP announced the first Windows 7-based tablet called the Slate 500 last Friday. It clearly said the Slate is intended for the IT market where Windows 7 is a major asset, not for consumers. Of all actual or potential tablet makers, HP has the largest and most effective sales and marketing group that focuses on selling to IT departments. Its results with Slate 500 will show whether Windows 7 can overcome its weaknesses on a tablet in that market.

Windows 7 also does not support touch screen operation very well because it was intended to be used with a keyboard and mouse. Ballmer has said Microsoft intends to tweak Windows 7 in the future for tablets but provided no specifics or timetable, showing how it has been wrong-footed.

Twelve or more companies will join HP with the Windows 7 tablet, according to Ballmer. It will be interesting to see what features they can have that might enable them to be a threat to the iPad in the consumer market. We suspect they won’t be, based on looking at Windows 7, Atom’s power requirement, Ballmer’s statements and HP’s cancellation of a Windows 7 tablet in the spring after the iPad launched.

Microsoft is counting on the enormous number of software products that run on Windows 7 to save the day. Unfortunately most of them don’t seem suitable for tablets. Apple has already collected 300,000 or so apps, some for businesses and some for consumers. The other advantage for Apple is that every app, unless there is a hardware barrier, runs on three of its four iOS devices — iPhone, iPod Touch (very popular with game players) and the iPad.

We and others expect Apple to make apps available for Apple TV in the near future, cementing its mantra of one OS on all products. Microsoft will end up with different operating systems for PCs, tablets, handsets, Xbox 360 and a slightly different version of Windows for servers, although it’s compatible with the PC version.

Microsoft is also counting on Windows 7 security, the widespread use of Outlook for e-mail, the corporates’ familiarity with Windows and existing customized Windows software. However, in the vacuum Microsoft has left in the corporate market place for tablets, Apple has set up shop. The corporates and third-party programmers have already developed thousands of iOS apps for the iPhones and iPads. Apple has added security features that the corporates insist on and bulked up its e-mail capability.

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