Microsoft unveils Surface tablet computer running Windows 8 OS

Microsoft debuts its Surface tablet computer with the new Windows 8 operating system (OS)

Microsoft has launched a tablet computer - dubbed the Surface - running on its Windows 8 operating system (OS).

Microsoft announced the Windows 8 tablet last night in a bid to take on rival tablet manufacturers Apple, Samsung and Google. The company called the product line Surface after its table-top touch-screen devices often used in retail or education.

The two Microsoft Surface tablet models on show revealed users would get a choice between an ARM processor-based device running Windows RT or an Intel core i5 processor with Windows 8 Pro.

The ARM tablet will weigh 676g – slightly more than the Apple iPad – with a depth of 9.3mm, coming in 0.1mm less than the Apple iPad. It will come with either 32GB or 64GB of internal memory.

However, unlike the Apple iPad, it will feature an additional microSD slot as well as a USB 2.0 port.  

The Intel version of the Microsoft Surface tablet is a more heavy-duty device, aimed at the Ultrabook market. It will weigh 903g, at a depth of 13.5mm and with either 64GB or 128GB internal memory. 

As well as a microSD slot, the Intel core i5 processor tablet will feature a USB 3.0 port and a mini displayport video connection.

Both devices will come with a built-in kickstand for adjusting the position of the tablet. They both have the option of attaching a type cover, a thin magnetically attached keyboard that doubles up as a protective case; or a more traditional feeling keyboard, depending on preference.

Enterprise support for the Microsoft Surface tablet

The tablets received some support from enterprise, with Virgin Media Business claiming the familiar name will encourage more companies to get on board with mobile devices.

Tony Grace, chief operating officer at Virgin Media Business, said: “Microsoft has always been a favourite for business use and these Surface tablets will usher in the next generation of ‘consumerised’ IT.

“Marrying consumer and business applications, the desktop application supportive device marks a step-change across business and consumer usage.

"We’re likely to see companies looking again at implementing ‘bring your own device’ schemes after their initial popularity, following the launch of the iPad.”

Analysts voice doubts

However, the analyst community is not so sure. Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum, claimed the attempt to bring both the desktop and tablet experience to users is likely to lead to more bad than good.

“There are no surprises in the software – the Surface tablet uses the same two desktop and RT versions of Windows 8 we've been hearing about,” she said. 

“As such, nothing has changed there and it still looks like a huge break with the past on the surface but with a jarring switch back to the old desktop world hidden beneath.”

“In theory, it delivers all the benefits of both the tablet-optimised environment and the classic desktop approach and apps, but in reality the versions available to try at the moment are a horrible mishmash of the two worlds that is likely to be confusing for the consumer.”

Dawson also raised the question of how other manufacturers planning to build their own Windows 8 tablets would feel about Microsoft launching its own hardware and taking away some of their market share.

“On the hardware front, what does it say about the tablets Microsoft is seeing from its OEM partners as it gets ready to launch Windows 8, that they felt they needed to launch their own tablet?” she added. 

“Either they are not happy with the devices out there, or they are not satisfied with only taking a licence fee from selling Windows-based tablets.”

“Either way, it is a huge vote of no confidence in its OEM partners, who should rightly feel slighted. It is rarely a good idea for an OS owner to start competing with its OEM partners and this does not feel like an exception.”

Prices for the two Microsoft Surface tablets have yet to be confirmed, but Microsoft said they would be comparable with ARM tablets and Intel Ultrabooks already on the market.

The ARM Windows RT model will launch at the same time as Windows 8 goes to general availability, but for the Intel Windows 8 Pro device, customers will have to wait a further 90 days before release.

Read more on Tablet computers