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Microsoft Should Get a Tablet Partner, Report Says

Microsoft's Windows consumer empire is at stake if it doesn't quickly find a tablet device manufacturing partner.

Such is the advice that comes from Forrester Research in a report published today, called "The Windows 7 Tablet Imperative." The report sees a menacing trend ahead for Microsoft, even though 90 percent of U.S. online consumers surveyed late last year by Forrester said that they were running some version of Windows on their home computer.

Many thought Microsoft already had a tablet OEM partner with Hewlett-Packard. In January, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the HP Slate tablet device running Windows 7 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. However, since that time, Microsoft has said little about its plans, and subsequent press reports have stated that the Slate project was killed (unconfirmed by Forrester).

Inquiries sent today to Microsoft on the status of the HP Slate project did not produce any definitive answers by press time. An HP spokesperson stated via e-mail on Thursday that "we're not disclosing additional information at this time." However, HP's purchase of Palm, announced in late April, and HP's plans to create its own tablet device using Palm's webOS may have complicated partnership plans with Microsoft on the Slate device.

In any case, Forrester's report urges Microsoft to find a tablet device OEM hardware partner fast or the company risks losing its Windows consumer market. Threats include Apple's iPad, in which one million devices were sold in the first month of its release. Google Chrome OS, planned for release on netbooks later this year, is another potential threat. Chrome OS will bypass Windows altogether and all applications will be accessed over the Internet.

The lesson Microsoft must learn, according to Forrester, is that a full-featured Windows OS is not required on smaller form factors and is actually a problem in terms of the user experience. Instead, Forrester advises that Microsoft should adopt a "curated computing" approach with its device-based operating systems. The analogy is that Microsoft should limit user choice and make the experience more relevant to a small device. Like a curator in a museum, Microsoft should select only the art objects that enhance the user's experience.

Microsoft may have accomplished this sort of limited user interface with Kin, the company's new mobile phone. Forrester argues that Microsoft could leverage parts of the user interfaces in its Kin and Zune products for the new tablet device.

Apple's runaway iPad market share can still be attacked if Microsoft were to link up its technologies, according to a Forrester blog post. Microsoft can sync a future tablet device using a Windows OS with the Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming device, creating a digital entertainment hub in the home. Future applications might include using the tablet device to stream TV to Xbox consoles, according to Forrester.

In late April, Microsoft told some media outlets that it had cancelled its plans for a dual-screen Courier tablet device. On Wednesday, Microsoft announced that long-time executives were leaving its Entertainment and Devices Division, including J. Allard who had fostered the Courier device.

The executive shakeup came as Microsoft was edged out by Apple in market capitalization. Many have interpreted this financial turnabout as further confirmation that Microsoft's consumer Windows market grip may be starting to loosen, or at least Wall Street has that concept.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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