Oliver Ahrens, Acer's senior VP and president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told Reuters that Microsoft's strategy to take on Apple with the Surface tablet will fail.
Microsoft left its partners in the dark about its tablet, releasing it last week at a secretive, Apple-style press event. While it generated some buzz, there are still questions around price, battery life and connectivity that may take away from its initial energy. And Ahren's comments probably don't help.
"I don't think it will be successful, because you cannot be a hardware player with two products," he told Reuters. "Microsoft is working with two dozen PC vendors worldwide, including the local guys, whereas Apple is alone; it can more or less do what it wants. Microsoft is a component of a PC system. A very important component, but still a component."
Instead of focusing on Windows 8, the software giant has started a whole new war with Apple, and the products — and partners — will suffer, Ahrens said.
This is not the positive spin reportedly heard earlier from Acer founder Stan Shih, who said that Microsoft will use its tablet to spur device makers to bring out their own Windows 8 tablets, and then withdraw from the market.
Shih said that Microsoft has "no reason" to sell hardware, because it is less profitable than licensing software, adding that he had "analysed" Microsoft's strategy in order to reach his conclusion.
A Dell spokesman offered some lukewarm support for Microsoft following the Surface unveiling: "We remain committed partners to Microsoft. We remain committed to Windows 8, and we will have a slate product at the time of launch."
It's not surprising that Microsoft's key partners, which were not informed about the Surface until just before the announcement last Monday, question Microsoft's plan to compete with them. "The move is a vote of no confidence in these partners, who should rightly feel slighted ... or challenged," said Jan Dawson, an analyst at research firm Ovum.
It may be that Microsoft is hedging its bets, carving out an Apple-like product-development team that marries hardware and software under the Microsoft brand, and trying to inspire makers of Windows systems to step up their game in developing Window 8 and Windows RT tablets and ultrabooks to compete with Apple iOS and Google Android devices.
If the Surface doesn't take off, as Acer's Ahrens suggests, Microsoft had better hope that its partners can deliver the kind of products that will keep the hundreds of millions of desktop Windows users from defecting to the competition as they transition to mobile platforms for work and play.