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The Microsoft “In Your Face” Report

One way to get attention is to shout. But why shout about a Browsers. Browsers are commodity apps these days, with raw performance differing by milliseconds in most respects. Many of the fundamentals, such as tabs and popup ad blocking, are a given. There are interface variations, of course, and the emphasis on features that may make one browser more popular than another. But since they are free, you can try as many as you want, and leave a few installed as your tastes change.

Now in the face of a declining market share, Microsoft has decided to spend a fair amount of money with noisy TV ads touting the “beautiful” experience of using Internet Explorer. Understand that a standards compliant browser should render a site the same as another standards compliant browser. If it renders that site differently — more beautiful or otherwise — it’s not doing the right job. But going against standards wouldn’t be anything new for Microsoft.

But the loud music is definitely irritating, and it appears loud was also the basis for the new Surface tablet campaign. You have clicks, clicks, and more clicks, with people dancing and otherwise engaging in wild, wacky behavior. I suppose it’s a desperate attempt to gain your attention, but at the end of the day, you see it once and you never want to see it again. Worse, you really know nothing about the product other than its appearance. By emphasizing the horizontal placement on the built-in kickstand, it is less a traditional tablet, and more of a netbook.

What you can accomplish on the Surface isn’t clear either. You just want to click it, I suppose. But I’ll withhold final judgement until I can spend some face time with one.

However, Microsoft has finally fleshed out the details, and made the Surface RT (the one with the ARM processor) available for pre-order. The standard Windows 8 Pro version, with an Intel processor, ships later.

As already disclosed, there is a $499.00 32GB version that we now know will ship without a Black Touch Cover, although this stripped version won’t arrive for another three weeks. Available for delivery on October 26 is the 32GB version with the cover for $599.00, and a 64GB version with cover for $699.00. These are all Wi-Fi products; there is no cellular version. A Surface Touch Cover in white is $119.99, but it doesn’t appear that you can substitute this accessory for the black version, so it only appears to make sense to buy one with the entry-level model. Such is Microsoft’s confusing ordering process.

You’ll notice, also, that Microsoft is selling the Surface for $100 less than the iPad. But to add to the confusion, there are actually two covers. The Surface Type Cover, at $129.99, appears to offer a more traditional keyboard feel with a full row of PC-type function keys.

Typical of Microsoft’s peculiar marketing approach, the Surface is advertised as “Timeless. Tough.” I fail to see what that has to do with the things you are expected to accomplish with the new tablet. At least the ads for the iPad show people actually doing something and not just dancing and making click sounds.

To Microsoft’s credit, the Surface is daringly different. It doesn’t resemble anyone else’s tablet. For the most part, the rest of the pack have made their best efforts to glom onto the success of the iPad, sometimes a little too much, which is why Apple is busy trying to get the courts to stop those tablets from being sold. The Surface won’t be confused with the iPad. The emphasis on the Touch Cover and Type Cover and the horizontal placement on a kickstand speak of PC, not tablet.

Of course, you cannot expect Apple to reduce the price of the iPad in the face of competition from Microsoft, any more than the price has been changed because of the onslaught of Android OS tablets. Most of them have been abject failures anyway, and it doesn’t seem there’s any potential for success outside of the 7-inch models. But wait till the iPad mini arrives, which is expected next week.

With the Surface RT, Microsoft is taking a risky move, that, in spite of the stellar success of the iPad, lots of customers will take to a totally different product, without a large app repository, beyond a touch-based Office “preview.” Despite the urgings of Microsoft, will developers want to risk developing for a product without a proven track record? Yes, Apple was in a similar position early on with the iPhone, but there was nothing to match the concept of the App Store, even though there were apps available for other smartphones.

Despite the heavy-duty promotion, Microsoft’s “design point” apparently will only be available online and via the small Microsoft Store chain. Will that be sufficient to move millions of Surfaces? And if the user base remains small, how does Microsoft build a unique app ecosystem? Will other PC makers attempt to build compelling ARM-based tablets as Surface alternatives, or just cede that portion of the market to Microsoft, and try to get some sales from Intel-based designs?

At least Intel-based tablets will be able to run existing Windows apps. So there is that, except that such tablets have gone nowhere.

In any case, here’s another Microsoft “in your face” campaign. Will it grab your attention, or make you feel tempted to push the fast forward button on your DVR?