Mary Jo Foley
Best Argument: No
A step back
Jason Perlow: Last week, Microsoft announced its Surface Windows 8 Tablet, breaking its 30-year tradition of being strictly a software company.
While the Surface itself appears to be a solid and innovative piece of hardware, its release will have negative repercussions for the entire PC industry.
In essence, by pre-announcing this device, it has created an "Osborne Effect" for the PC OEMs currently working on similar spec-ed tablets and Ultrabooks who must not only license Windows 8 from Microsoft but also leverage the same ODM component and manufacturing channel, putting them at a serious disadvantage on pricing for many models currently planned for the Fall 2012 and Winter 2013 release timeframe.
While my opponent will surely claim victory for end-users which will now have access to a high-quality Windows device directly from the source, the reality is that in the long term, this will have a negative impact on consumers. The first being vendor and device choice, which has always been one of the primary advantages of being a Windows user and a prime differentiator from using Apple products.
If the Surface succeeds, and Microsoft transitions to being the primary source of Windows PC hardware (and possibly even smartphones), the OEM ecosystem will be irreparably damaged. Second, it puts
Microsoft back in the position of monopolist.
All things considered, a transition towards the Surface and other Microsoft-branded hardware would be a step backwards for the consumer, not forwards. And it damages Microsoft as well, because they would be competing in a very low-margin business against a company that is far more skilled at vertical integration than they are -- Apple.
Mary Jo Foley: I often am critical of Microsoft's product plans and strategies, but last week, I found myself upbeat about how the Softies are trying to right the ship in Redmond.
The coming Microsoft-designed Surface devices (PCs? Tablets? Pablets? TCs?) combine tablet and PC form factors into single systems running Windows RT (Windows on ARM) or Windows 8 (on Intel). Some are whining that Microsoft's decision to sell Microsoft-branded PCs will hurt existing PC partners. My take: Microsoft is raising the design bar and finally telling its partners it's time to jump over instead of limbo under it. Yay!
On the Windows Phone front, Microsoft acknowledged the feature-rich Apollo OS update is not coming to existing Windows Phones – the 3% of us who jumped onboard early. To those who say they're surprised that many hardware-dependent (multicore, NFC) features won't be available on existing phones, you shouldn't be. This was strongly rumored for months. Yes, Apollo is a platform reset, but one that’s needed to keep Windows Phone competitive.
If you want a viable third alternative to Apple and Google/Android devices in the future, you’re going to have to endure some sharp strategic turns. It's going to be a bumpy ride for a while, but without these transitions, Microsoft's long-term viability was in serious question.
Great Debate Moderator
*More* than ready, it appears..
First question coming up on the hour.
Great Debate Moderator
Are our debaters present and ready to rumble?
Mary Jo, When I left you at Sm@rt Reseller, I was but the learner.
NOW I AM THE MASTER.
Ready as I'll ever be
for this bearded, testosterone-fueled fanboy :)
Great Debate Moderator
OK, I get that Surface was an issue for OEMs, but who cares? OEMs have no choice anyway. How will Microsoft integrating hardware help or harm users?
Lack of experience in vertical integration will hurt end-users.
Because Microsoft is new to the vertical hardware and software integration game, it is going to make early mistakes that its closest competitor, Apple, has spent two and a half decades learning from. The people who are going to suffer from Microsoft's early mistakes who jump into Surface hardware are going to be end-users, whether they are consumers or enterprises. While Microsoft has transitioned to a more of an incremental update model than its Service Pack model of previous generations, it is still a much less agile platform than that of iOS or Android in terms of the frequency of ongoing maintenance and upgrades. This is going to be perceived in some circles as a key differentiator or a key disadvantage depending on how you look at it. We also are well aware of how difficult the new EFI bootloaders which are Windows 8 compliant are going to make installing competing OSes like Linux and Android. On a Surface tablet, you can be assured that there's no chance in hell an end-user will be able to make Linux or Android work on it, even if only a small minority of people would want to do it. It sounds crazy, but even Apple's x86 hardware is more flexible in this respect. We also don't know how Microsoft is going to address the demands of large corporations with imaging and pre-loads that OEMs currently do for their large customers. It probably isn't even possible with the ARM model and may not be practical at scale for them to do with the x86 model depending on the relative demand for the two products.
Is more choice ever a bad thing?
It's hard for me to envision any scenarios where adding yet more more PC/tablet choices to what's available would harm users. Microsoft's Surface is a lot like the "Signature" PCs that Microsoft sells in its own brick-and-mortar stores. They are crapware-free. They will likely come preloaded in some way with apps (hello, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) and services (Hotmail, SkyDrive) which the majority of Windows users would likely want and need. (But which they can dump if they do not.) And the Surfaces will also will offer users a number of custom features, like the built in "luxury-car-door-shutting" kickstand, plus a choice of two different kinds of covers, one optimized for clickable-key fast typing and the other for touch. What's bad here for consumers? Even if Microsoft comes in at a higher-than-anticipated price (vis a vis iPads and ultrabooks), consumers will still win because they can vote with their purchasing dollars for machines from other OEMs. If you don't like Microsoft's offer, go with Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Samsung, etc., etc., etc.....
Great Debate Moderator
Jason said that the Surface will hurt PC OEMs. Is Microsoft's move to unveil the Surface an acknowledgement that the post PC era is here?
Post PC is here and the retail channel will suffer as a result as well.
I have made the case in other Great Debates and other writings on ZDNet that the post-PC is definitely in the early stages and we are within 5 years of a full transition away from the x86 architecture as the predominant end-user computing platform, so I'm not going to backtrack on that. If Surface succeeds -- at least in its current form as an all-Microsoft designed and manufactured device -- it is going to be an accelerant on the proverbial OEM fire. I don't want to sidetrack, but what has not yet been considered in this debate or even in the coverage of this product at all is the effect that Surface will have on retail. You will notice that Microsoft hasn't made any announcements as to retail launch partners for Surface whatsoever. The domain and the lifeline of most OEM PC equipment sales (save for Dell, which has always been partial to a direct sales model) has largely been in retail stores, so I think we should address this. I have also in my writings have said that retail itself is in grave danger of being displaced by online sales -- clicks are inevitably going to kill the bricks. While Microsoft plans to build out its retail store infrastructure, I find it hard to believe that they will execute on the same scale and with the same effectiveness as Apple has done. Or will devote so much time to retail in order to speed adoption for Surface. In comparison, Apple has considerable experience leveraging the traditional retail channel, and is building store-within store experiences to further increase their presence. I don't see how Microsoft is going to be able to make significant headway here without disrupting the model somehow. They either have to put a lot of energy into direct sales -- which will whack the OEMs, or they have to put considerable resources into building their own retail infrastructure. However, my bet is that Microsoft is going to favor direct and online sales over retail, bypassing many of the channel inefficiencies, as that will deliver the most bang for the buck.
More like the start of a 'tablets can be PCs' too era
More than a case of the "post-PC" era being here, I think the "tablets can be PCs, too" era may be realized via the Microsoft Surface devices. Up until now, Microsoft's claims that "tablets are PCs" rang false to me. I do not use my iPad for the same tasks, in the same scenarios or in the same ways that I use my Windows PC. Yes, both are mobile devices, but my PC was/is for "real" work and my iPad is for browsing, light email, and "fun." (And before anyone jumps all over me, blasting me for saying peopel cannot do "real" work on an iPad or that I think iPads are not for both creation and consumption, I am NOT claiming either of these things. This is about how *I* use my iPad. Period.) In my mind, this dichotomy disappeared once I saw the Surface devices. Microsoft execs said the Surfaces were both tablets that were great PCs and PCs that worked great as tablets. If they work as advertised, Microsoft's claim that tablets can be PCs won't seem so far-fetched to me. It's the new keyboard-covers that are the key. Microsoft has found a way to bridge the two formerly disparate worlds of PCs and tablets.
Great Debate Moderator
Where's the OEM innovation?
I'd argue that Microsoft had to do the Surface approach simply because OEMs haven't innovated. Ultrabooks were designed by Intel. Tablet clones are copies of the iPad. Microsoft had to get into the design game because OEMs have flatlined. Agree? Disagree? And why?
Do not dismiss the OEMs entirely.
I would not dismiss all OEMs as having flatlined. I concede that Hewlett-Packard hasn't done anything interesting in a long time, and neither has Dell. But if you look at what the Asian OEMs like Lenovo, Asus, Acer, HTC and Samsung are doing, those companies are making some very interesting and compelling products and arguably, have pioneered in the same convertible form factor which the Surface uses. I will add, however, that these interesting designs we have seen from the Asian OEMs have largely been introduced with the Android and ARM space. If anything, Microsoft's slow entry into the ARM architecture with Windows and allowing Android a 4-year head start hasn't helped their situation at all. So they are assigning blame in hardware innovation to the OEMs when they themselves have made their bed with Intel and maintained and coddled the quid pro quo PC architecture for the last 30 years. If Windows RT provides a compelling platform, then the OEMs will exploit it. But with Surface, Microsoft just kicked them all in the nuts and they are now probably thinking about differentiation and how to deal with a clear margin and supply chain disadvantage. OEMs may have to cancel some products, including Ultrabook designs, that would have had to compete unfairly in the marketplace against Surface next year. And they are probably also examining the developments over at the green pastures in Android-land as a possible way to diversify. They've had all of their eggs in Microsoft's basket for decades and the wolf just raided them.
The real question: Where's the pride in craftsmanship?
Innovation is in the eye of the beholder. The dual-screen ASUS Taichi is definitely "innovative," if not more than a little odd. The Samsung Series 9 is a sweet and svelte laptop, with its 13.3-inch screen and "duralumin" body. The coming Lenovo Yogapad is a pretzel-contorting package that isn't just for Bikram fans. Sadly for us consumers who've wanted Windows PCs, the innovative models have been few and far between. Everything looks the same. The trackpads are awful. There are almost no models with matte screens, only glossy. Battery life on most models is... meh. And don't get me started on the crapware preloading that is still going on out there. Yes, I understand PC sales are down and pressure on OEM margins is up. But the solution isn't to keep churning out me-too machines. Microsoft execs talked about their "pride in craftsmanship" with the Surface. That should translate into "pride in ownership" with users. I don't think I'm alone in wanting a solidly made, beautiful-looking, distinctive PC and/or tablet. Apple users aren't the only ones willing to pay a fair price for something drool-worthy.
Great Debate Moderator
What are your respective takes on Microsoft's Windows 8 bet? Will it pay off?
Huge gamble indeed.
This isn't a Windows 8 debate, but you can't really talk about the fate of Surface without bringing the new OS into question. The two are joined at the hip. For Windows 8 to succeed it is going to need many new exploitive applications written for the new Metro UI and WinRT API set. So far, I have not seen compelling evidence that the traditional Windows software developers are devoting tremendous resources to this yet. So the bulk of the applications we are going to see at launch for Windows 8 will be on the x86 version, which are legacy Win32 apps. That being said, Windows 8 represents a radical shift from the traditional Windows experience. So it's a huge risk for Microsoft. Enterprises are going to be wary of Windows 8 until they see from limited pilot implementations how well it integrates into their environments and how they can manage it, so until then, Windows 7 will be king. Many organizations only just migrated or are finishing their migrations to Windows 7, so a good deal of them are going to wait until the next major Windows upgrade cycle before making any more substantive changes. And end-users? With Windows RT, they're going to have to buy all new replacement applications with the exception of pre-loaded Office. With Windows 8, there's very little advantage in using it to run traditional Win32 applications when Windows 7 does it so well and in such a familiar fashion. Buying retail copies of Windows 8 to upgrade existing Windows 7 PCs also doesn't make a lot of sense.
Surface hardware could make Windows 8 more palatable
When you're talking tablets, it's really hard to separate the "hardware" and "software" parts of the experience. Did people run out and buy iPads (any generation) because they loved iOS? I'd argue no. The user feedback on Windows 8 has been very mixed to date. It seems as those using it on tablets like it more than those using it on PCs. On all types of Windows 8 devices, there's going to be a substantial learning curve. The new gestures aren't intuitive; they require time and effort to master. And while Windows 8 might make a decent OS on consumer PCs and devices, the jury is out as to whether it will be a productivity enhancer or detractor in work settings. What is going to help sell Windows 8 is *the hardware.* Because Windows 8 works so differently from previous versions of Windows, Microsoft needs different kinds of devices to help sell it. The hardware needs to make the OS more palatable. Until last week, I didn't think Microsoft's Windows 8 bet would pay off because I hadn't seen any PCs or tablets that could go head-to-head with the iPad or Macbooks. Now I have at least a ray of hope that the Surfaces may be those devices.
Great Debate Moderator
What's the outlook for Microsoft in three years if its Windows 8/Surface/tablet bet works?
MS vs. DOJ 2.0 and European Commission opens whup-ass cans
If Surface succeeds then it is going to have to succeed at the expense of the OEMs which license its consumer Windows software and represents the bulk of its traditional revenue stream along with its enterprise software. The company cannot have its proverbial cake and eat it as well. A success for Surface means the destruction of the OEM ecosystem and turning into another Apple. I'm not sure consumers and businesses really want another Apple, one walled garden is enough -- and at least Apple's walled garden is highly customer focused and has a good history of supporting products long after their sales lifecycle. Conversely, in the consumer space, Microsoft has a reputation for abandoning technologies and customer when it suits them, so they are going to have to make a huge effort in changing their spots if they are truly committed to being a hardware manufacturer. And I think it is also worth mentioning that antitrust forces in the United States and Europe could be brought to bear on Microsoft if Surface really does become successful and damages the business prospects of OEMs. If you thought MS-DOJ in the 1990's and the billions of fines from the EU in the last five years was a heck of a bumpy ride, think of what else is likely to come down the pike.
Microsoft as the new No. 1 PC hardware maker: Not likely
I think we need to define what "works" means here. And "works" means different things on the OS side and the hardware side. If "works" means sells millions of copies of the operating system in 3 years, I have little doubt Windows 8 will "work." The sheer force of the 1-billion-strong Windows user-base ball rolling down the hill guarantees some very decent level of "success." Remember: even the now-vilified Vista sold multiple millions of copies. Like Vista, Windows 8 will come preloaded on new PCs and volume licensees will get rights to it (though they can and may opt to "downgrade" to Windows 7). If "works" means convincing users who aren't automatically "upgraded" to Windows 8 to move to the new platform, I have more doubts. Can Microsoft sway users who like Windows just the way it is to move to an entirely different paradigm? Can Microsoft convince developers, including business app developers and custom line-of-business developers to build Metro-Style versions of their apps to help convince more users to move to Windows 8? I really don't know at this point. On the hardware side, I don't see Microsoft becoming a top tier PC OEM in three years. I do not believe Microsoft is trying to surpass its existing OEMs in terms of number of units sold. (I also don't think the Surface announcement was a decoy solely meant to spur OEMs to do better and that Microsoft will say in a couple months "Just kidding, guys! We aren't really going to compete with you!") It will take Microsoft and its manufacturing partner(s) a long time to gear up to produce the Surface units at volume, if they ever decide that's what they want to do.
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The enterprise play
Is the Surface more important for businesses or consumers?
In the short term I believe it is more of a consumer product than it is an enterprise/business product. I believe businesses require more resilient and ruggedized x86 hardware for their mobile computing needs if they require real PC applications, and if they simply require content consumption they have iPad which has a much larger library of apps to choose from. From a vertical application development and device customization standpoint Android has a substantial lead over Windows RT and Windows 8.
Not either/or. Potentially "both"
Both. The iPad is finding adoption by business, not just home, users. Microsoft is expecting and hoping for the same with Surface devices. If you care about running existing apps and managing these devices via Active Directory and Group Policy, then you will want to wait for the Intel-based Surface Pro. If you don't, then you also have the option of the ARM-based Windows RT Surface. There is supposedly some kind of mystery management technology coming from Microsoft for ARM-based Windows devices (and Windows Phone 8 handsets) which Microsoft still won't disclose. We also still don't know pricing or battery life for either device yet, so those factors will no doubt play into the business appeal (or lack thereof) for ARM-based Surfaces devices.
Great Debate Moderator
And what happens if...
...the Windows 8 bet flops?
Then I for one...
welcome our new Apple and Google post-PC overlords.
There's always Windows 9....
If Windows 8 flops, there's always Windows 9. I'm kidding... sort of. I actually think Microsoft will try to salvage things if Windows 8 bombs by increasing training resources, dropping prices (of both the cost charged to OEMs to license the OS and to consumers buying "upgrade" copies) and making the complementary services like SkyDrive, Xbox Music/Video, Xbox Live more compelling and feature-rich. And hopefully Windows 9 -- like Windows 7 did for Vista -- will provide clean up and fixes for Windows 8. (And be delivered in some amount of time that's less than three years from this fall.) Microsoft will be in a world of hurt if Windows 8 flops. Yes, Office is the biggest "cash cow" at the company, these days. But Windows is the center around which Microsoft and partners still pivot. CEO Steve Ballmer not so long ago called Windows 8 Microsoft's biggest bet. It definitely is a risky one.
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The Surface keyboard
Is the keyboard of the Surface a competitive advantage or just eye candy?
Yeah, "Which" keyboard?
Nobody outside of Microsoft, not even the journalists covering the Surface pre-launch event has actually typed on the stock detachable keyboard cover yet, so as to how effective it will be as a data input device is questionable. However the higher-end detachable black tactile keyboard (an additional purchase) looks like it will be comparable to an Ultrabook or a subnotebook typing experience. For getting "Real Work" done with Microsoft Office for the road warrior it will be useful. I will note, however, that similar 3rd-party products already exist for both the iPad and Android tablets.
The keyboard-cover combination is *the* killer feature
The keyboards (there are 2 choices -- touch and type) are what sold me on the Surface. I just wish there was a purple one! (But don't listen to me. I also liked the brown Zune...) Seriously, though -- up until the Surface announcement last week, Microsoft kept pushing the idea that people want to reach out and touch their laptops. Not just their tablets, but their laptops. I know there have been studies done that claim to back this up. But I know I'm not the only one who finds this claim laughable. What could Microsoft have brought to the tablet-type form factor that would truly differentiate it from an iPad and Android tablet? Keyboards that also function as covers. Brilliant!
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The big freeze
Will the Surface preannouncement freeze anything for IT buyers?
Business as usual
For volume corporate buyers that have established relationships with major OEMs, no.
Seed of FUD successfully planted
The Surface announcement was no doubt intended to freeze the market. I think Microsoft achieved that goal. By not sharing the battery life and price, Microsoft has planted at least a seed of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) in the minds of those who were already sold on iPads and/or Android tablets. Once those two pieces of information are known -- and some independent testers get to bang on these things -- the market will unfreeze, either in Microsoft's favor or not.
Great Debate Moderator
ARM vs Intel
Surface launched ARM first. Does that move indicate that ARM will be a bigger part of Microsoft's Windows 8 future?
ARM is part of EVERYONE'S future.
I think it is painfully obvious that ARM is a part of everyone's future, not just Microsoft's. The leading mobile platforms are all ARM-based, and there is no compelling evidence that Intel can achieve the same power consumption to CPU performance ratio that ARM can in the near future. Considering the significant transition towards mobile platforms such as iOS and Android for the majority of the consumer computing experience it does not surprise me that Micorosoft has focused heavily on bringing the Windows experience to ARM.
Oh where, oh where are those Intel SoCs?
No, ARM first doesn't mean ARM is Microsoft's new BFF. It is more about the fact Intel is running late. Again. At first, I was really surprised that the Windows RT model is what Microsoft plans to lead with, out of the gate. It is due out this fall, with the Intel-based Surface on tap to follow three months later. I was surprised because I had figured Windows RT systems were more unstable than their Intel-based Windows 8 counterparts, and that's why Microsoft and partners continue to hold back on allowing reviewers to get their hands on these systems. Microsoft shared specs for an Intel-based Surface that was built using an Ivy Bridge processor. I wonder if that's the real plan or if that's just a placeholder until Intel starts delivering its dual-core, lower-power system-on-a-chip (SoC) processor, Clover Trail. It's these SoC processors that Intel is positioning as its best shot against ARM. They are now due to go to PC makers later this year, which means they're unlikely to show up in new machines until late 2012, at best, I'd think.
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The right price
What will the Surface have to cost to really benefit users and get Microsoft in the tablet game?
It can't be more than what a comparable iPad or Core i5-based Ultrabook costs.
Well, I think we all have to agree that a base level 10" ARM tablet really has to cost less than $500 to attract consumers away from the leading platform, the iPad. I don't know if Microsoft can really do this unless the bundling of the basic version of the Office Suite in the ARM-based Surface is considered a significant value-add for consumers. With the x86-based Surface, we are talking more of a notebook or Ultrabook computer replacement, so the $700.00 price range is probably more like it.
Will the Surface be a Lexus? Or a Hyundai?
I've seen many pundits and company watchers argue that if Microsoft fails to undercut the price of the iPad, it's curtains. Some are saying if Redmond fails to at least match the prices of iPads (with the Windows RT Surface) and ultrabooks (with the Intel-based Surface), Microsoft is toast. If you buy these arguments, this would mean Microsoft MUST price ARM Surfaces at $499 or less and Intel Surfaces in the $800 range. We still don't know what comes bundled for free with the Surface devices. We *think* four Office apps will be part of the ARM-based ones. We *think* the kickstand will be built-in. We don't know how much additional (if anything) the keyboard/covers will be. So that complicates the pricing equation a bit. We also don't know whether Microsoft is planning to try to position the Surfaces as "luxury" items. With more than 200 custom-made parts -- everything from hinges to the keyboards and kickstands -- maybe Microsoft plans to push these as more high-end than volume devices. That would be another way for Microsoft to avoid kicking its OEMs (even more) when they're down: Come in above them on price with "higher end" devices.
Great Debate Moderator
Abandoning early adopters
I'll grant you that Windows Phone 7 users have been thrown under the bus; but will Microsoft really pay a price? After all, Microsoft is doing what Apple has done. What could Microsoft have done differently with the WP8 vs WP7 issue?
Code unification screwed the pooch
Microsoft apologists will likely burn me in effigy for this answer, but I think the company has made a strategic mistake by unifying the Windows code-base for Smartphone and Tablet-based OS with their desktop PC OS. With Windows Phone 8, the software now runs on the same basic core as Windows RT and Windows 8, using an NT kernel and an NTFS-based file system in favor of a more traditional lightweight embedded Windows CE core. There are some traditional advantages to code unification such as portability of applications, but running a heavyweight monolithic kernel on an ARM smartphone (and even a tablet) means you need much more RAM and CPU horsepower to power the stack. And in the case of Windows Phone, porting existing mobile Metro apps to Windows RT and Windows 8 isn't necessarily a slam dunk despite sharing a basic OS core. I'll quote Microsoft directly here: "Developers who build applications for Windows Phone will be very well prepared for building applications for Windows 8...and in many cases, may be able to reuse assets and business logic in building new Windows 8 applications... While Windows Phone applications cannot run on Windows 8 without being modified, developers have found it's fairly easy to port a well-written Windows Phone app to Windows 8" Thats a pretty cagey answer. This shift towards core OS code unification has made the Windows Phone 7 hardware immediately obsolete. By comparison, Apple has been able to support several generations of older iOS hardware such as the iPhone 3GS and the iPad 1 with successive OS updates which only have single processor cores and small amounts of RAM. For the time being, Apple has kept their desktop OS and their Smartphone/Tablet OSes on separate development paths, although user experience innovations from iOS are being migrated/ported to OS X. This is very different from what Microsoft is doing. Windows Phone 7 was able to leverage a single processor core and a lot less RAM and did not require a journaling file system, all of which taxes the hardware. Additionally, by obsoleting Windows Phone 7 hardware so quickly, this is going to leave a lasting impression on consumers and its hardware partners and its carriers which sell their hardware that the company abandons its users and science projects whenever it suits them.
It's all in the name
Microsoft could have done one thing differently that could have lessened the outcry from the 3 percent of users worldwide who are early Windows Phone adopters who now know for sure they are not going to get the Windows Phone 8 OS. (I'm one of the 3 percent, by the way.) Microsoft could have taken yet another page out of Apple's book and just called the coming upgrade that existing phone users are going to get "Windows Phone 8." Instead, Microsoft is calling this update "Windows Phone 7.8." Why not do what Apple's done in the past and bring the brand-new OS to existing phones and just have the features that are hardware-dependent "degrade gracefully" (i.e., not work)? The coming 7.8 update, as far as I've been told, is just the new UI (3 sizes of tiles and no more right gutter). Microsoft execs have said they technically could have brought more of the Win Phone OS 8 to existing phones, but the amount of investment required to do so was prohibitive. Calling the 7.8 update 8.0 wouldn't have fooled the techies, but it might have softened the blow, at least perception-wise, of this platform reset.
Great Debate Moderator
OK, last questions, folks: It's been a week since the Surface unveiling. Has the fallout helped or harmed Microsoft?
Do you smell VAPOR?
The event was a surprise to everyone and it generated a lot of excitement for Microsoft. The tablet itself appears to be a compelling device and the company should be commended for its engineering efforts. If it means anything, I'm going to be buying one myself, although I haven't figured out whether I want the x86 or ARM version. At the same time, Microsoft introduced a new hardware product far ahead of its general availability, which has brought it considerable criticism, even from its most stalwart advocates in the tech media. The ARM Surface won't be available probably until October and the x86 will not be available until the January timeframe, so the product has the stench of vaporware on it despite all evidence to the contrary that the Surface is a very real product. Compared to the way Apple does business, with products being immediately available for pre-order or in the channel within weeks of announcement, this comes off as amateurish.
No news is bad news (so they say)
Microsoft execs have said in the past they consider any press to be "good press." If you go by this criteria, it's been a banner week for the Surface -- even though its introduction created OEM angst and left many questions unanswered. Some of the most negative coverage I've seen has been on ZDNet, where a number of my fellow bloggers here have worried aloud about the effect of Microsoft's move on other Windows OEMs and the ecosystem as a whole. I am representing the user here when I say: Too darned bad. I want a next-generation device that's lightweight, powerful and productivity-enhancing. I don't care who makes it -- whether it is Microsoft or one of its PC partners. PC makers haven't inspired my confidence. They've done little to advance the state of the PC/tablet in the past several years. It's time someone new stepped in. With the announcement of the Surface, I finally feel like I might want a Windows 8 device, which is something I couldn't say until now. So chalk one up for the Softies.
Great Debate Moderator
Mary Jo and Jason -- Great debate!
I look forward to seeing your closing arguments tomorrow at 2pm PT, and I will deliver my final verdict on Thursday.
Throwing everyone under the bus
While the Microsoft's new tablets and Windows Phone 8 devices appear -- on the Surface -- to be a huge leap forward in Microsoft's evolution, they are indeed bad news for the end-user.
With Surface, Microsoft seeks to demolish the very same 30-year-old industry that it worked so hard to create with the support of the OEMs and the users who depended on them and provided the company with so much revenue for so many years.
Hurting the OEMs' ability to compete and moving towards a direct manufacturing model hurts the end user because it will reduce choice, and threatens to establish the company as a monopolistic, closed-off ecosystem.
If the OEMs fail because of Surface's success, it will mean the loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector, particularly for OEMs such as Dell and HP that have a strong base of US operations, as well as other companies which support the OEM ecosystem such as resellers and distributors.
If Microsoft chooses a direct sales approach for Surface, retail will also suffer and it will also result in lost jobs. Despite what you might think, not all of this will come at the expense of Asian companies.
Microsoft has also hurt their early adopters and manufacturers of Windows Phone 7 devices by significantly changing the requirements for Windows Phone 8 and making all previous hardware incompatible.
This may sound trivial given the company's pitiful market share in the smartphone space, but displaying such a willingness to abandon customers and orphan products cannot possibly bode well for the users who were duped into thinking they had a migration path and the manufacturers and carriers which signed on as partners.
To quote my colleague James Kendrick-- Microsoft, it seems, is perfectly content to throw literally everyone under the bus.
The Surface: Where the rubber (or VaporMg) meets the Windows 8 road
Mary Jo Foley
If you had told me a few years ago -- even last year -- that my next PC might be from Microsoft, I would have called you crazy.
But if the Softies can get battery life up and device weight down, I'm seriously contemplating buying a Surface.
Microsoft may have thrown its OEMs under the bus with the Surface, but after years of putting up with bad trackpads, crapware-infested hardware and too many me-too clunkers, I’m not shedding any tears.
I'm not one of those who won't look Microsoft's way if they don't undercut the price of an iPad or ultrabooks that are on the market. I am willing to pay more for a solidly designed, distinctive looking, decent-performing Pablet (PC-tablet). As I noted in our debate this week, Apple users aren't the only ones willing to pay a fair price for a nice machine ( or a nice hotel, apparently).
For me, the hardware that could end up making Windows 8 palatable just might be Microsoft-branded. The touch/type keyboards, the built-in kickstand, the scratch-free VaporMg casing might help me stomach the changes Microsoft is making to its operating system.
Welcome to the weird, new Windows world.
Users could benefit
Microsoft's big bet on the Surface -- and alienation of the ecosystem -- may have thrown OEMs under a bus, but users could benefit. Jason and Mary Jo debated how Microsoft's moves would impact users. The reality is we don't know. Overall, though, Mary Jo made a more compelling argument. Sometimes you have to rattle your partners if you want to compete.