Microsoft Surface Drawing a Modest Reaction?

By | Nov 14, 2012

According to a well-informed source, the Microsoft Surface tablet device is generating only "modest" sales. The source? Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. And his language seemed decidedly modest for a CEO talking about a major venture. For the IT community this may be an unwelcome warning sign.

It is no great secret that many IT managers at midsize firms are eager to welcome Microsoft to the mobility scene. They may not always love Windows, but they are familiar with it. Redmond, in turn, is familiar with business computing and IT needs. If Microsoft's CEO is reflecting only modest confidence, the future of Windows mobility becomes a little bit more uncertain.

Modest Enthusiasm?

As Brooke Crothers reports at CNET, Ballmer made his remark about Microsoft Surface sales while speaking to French daily paper Le Parisien. He told the paper that Surface sales are "starting modestly." He did also hint sales were being limited by availability rather than demand: One of the initial models was listed as out of stock for a week.

Interpretation of Ballmer's comments are also complicated by subtleties of language and culture. In American business culture an element of boosterism is expected, and we notice its absence. It may be that, to the intended French audience, modest conveyed dignified reticence rather than a hint of caution.

However we read the tea leaves about modest sales, Ballmer went on to note that a high-end version of Surface is on its way, powered by Intel chips and competitive with ultrabooks. Prospective sales of this version, modest or otherwise, may tell us more about the future of Windows tablets in the enterprise.

Modest Alternatives

For the IT community, interest in Windows tablets and other mobile devices is driven not just by Microsoft's strengths but by its rivals' limitations.

Apple is relentlessly focused on the consumer market, with no perceptible interest in business customers or their needs. And its tight control over iOS apps would shackle many midsize firms. Android is free of these problems, and Google is offering its own business productivity suite, Google Apps. But Android is fragmented and has security issues.

In short, the ecosystem of mobile devices and operating systems is, on the whole, none too friendly to IT at midsize firms. Thus, the "modest" hope that good old Windows will come to the rescue, offering IT a less sexy but more robust and business-minded alternative in the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and "consumerization" eras.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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