Windows 8 is Microsoft's best effort to catch up with Apple and grab tablet sales away from the iPad by including things iPads just don't have, according to Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
These things include keyboards and Microsoft Office, Gates says in an interview with CNBC. "With Windows 8 Microsoft is trying to gain share in what has been dominated by the iPad-type device," Gates says.
He says Windows 8 was designed to wrap PCs into a tablet form, as exemplified by Microsoft's own Windows 8 hardware Surface PRO and Surface RT.
"So if you have Surface, Surface PRO you've got that portability of the tablet but richness -- in terms of the keyboard, Microsoft Office -- of a PC," he says. "So as you say PCs are a big market. It's going to be harder and harder to distinguish products whether they're tablets or PCs."
Microsoft sees customers are unsatisfied by limitations of pure tablets with touchscreens and no support for Office. "A lot of those users are frustrated," Gates says. "They can't type, they can't create documents, they don't have Office there so we're providing something with the benefits they've seen that have made [tablets] a big category but without giving up what they expect in a PC."
Small, cheap Acer tablet
A product listing for a rumored Acer mini tablet popped up briefly on Amazon.com last week for the surprisingly low price of $379.99 before the item was taken down.
But the specifications listed for the device indicate that it can support a full-blown PC version of Windows 8 on an 8.1-inch tablet.
The low price makes them attractive to consumers and increases the possibility that Windows 8 devices will become a factor in BYOD programs. At the same time these small tablets become more attractive to businesses because they can support all legacy applications that run on Windows 7 including the full version of Microsoft Office.
A separate version of Windows 8 -- Windows RT -- is designed for tablets that are based on ARM processors, but they only run Windows Store applications and a truncated version of Office. Windows RT devices also can't join domains.
The Acer product in question is the W3-810-1600, pictured below in a photo that was posted two weeks ago by the French website minimachines.net but taken down at Acer's request.
The screen resolution is 1280x800 pixels is the low end of minimum requirements for Windows 8 devices set by Microsoft, according to specifications posted by The Verge.
While it's OK to build devices to that spec, it's not without ramifications. The devices can't support snap screens, which is a feature that displays two applications at once -- one small and one large -- and to reverse which one is bigger with a simple touchscreen swipe.
Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.
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