AS MICROSOFT readies Windows 8 for its public release, the PC builders that have helped make Windows the most popular desktop operating system must be seething as all the talk is of Microsoft's own Surface RT tablet.
Microsoft's decision to flog IT hardware under its own brand was something most analysts would never have predicted with any certainty even two years ago because Microsoft has always said its relationship with PC vendors has been key to its market share position. So it was no surprise that following Microsoft's announcement of Surface RT months ago there were strong rumours that many PC vendors were more than just a bit miffed with the Redmond software firm and this week will surely have only added to their anger.
Every time Microsoft launches a new version of Windows, PC vendors clamour to promote their designs as being the best showcase for the operating system. The only problem is that this week the majority of attention is on the Ipad Mini or Surface RT rather than Windows 8 PCs, even though firms such as Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo have shown off some interesting and in some cases truly innovative designs.
Of course PC makers cannot compete with the general thirst for everything that Apple does. But the fact that the web is full of Surface RT reviews with little attention being paid to other Windows 8 devices shows just how little interest there is in Windows 8 overall from a group of people that would traditionally see a Windows launch as a major event in the IT calendar. Ultimately for PC makers, Microsoft launching branded devices is a bit like Apple being a PC manufacturer, as it is a brand that most cannot compete with.
But Microsoft still holds considerable sway in the enterprise world and even more importantly in the minds of consumers. Technology pundits will point to failures such as Zune, Kin and even Bing, but many more people think of Microsoft as Windows, Office and Xbox and it is the Xbox that serves as a warning for PC vendors.
When Microsoft got into the console game back in 2001, Sony had the sort of market share that would make Apple envious, and while Microsoft took the best part of a decade to become a force in the games console market, it managed to do it from a complete standstill. On the other hand Microsoft's Surface RT boasts an operating system that has been widely used by consumers and businesses for many years, making its marketing task a lot easier.
Few will truly believe that Microsoft will topple Apple with the Surface RT tablet and judging from the first round of reviews, no amount of marketing fluff will be able to overcome its problems, such as a distinct lack of applications and mediocre battery life. Nevertheless the point is that people are talking about Microsoft's Surface RT tablet and not devices that are probably better from PC builders. And unlike the Zune or the Kin, both of which were half-hearted attempts to get into their respective markets, if the Surface RT tablet is anything to go by, Microsoft is serious about getting into the hardware game.
Microsoft has clearly put considerable effort in the design, specification and optimisation of its Surface RT tablet. The firm even went to the trouble of creating a set of accessories that consumers might actually want to buy, and while the colour schemes and styling might not be to everyone's taste, the device stands out in an already crowded market.