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Ballmer: Windows 7 Slates Are Coming, Honest

Addressing Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference being held in Washington D.C., Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer assured attendees that his company has no intention of continuing to let Apple run away with the tablet computing market, and that Windows 7 slate-style PCs will be hitting the market “in the next several months,” with a variety of different products targeting both the needs of everyday consumers as well as enterprise users. But, as with the Windows market for desktops and notebooks, Microsoft isn’t making the slates itself; instead, the devices will come from Microsoft’s standard OEM parents like Asus, Dell, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba.

Without mentioning Apple directly, Ballmer indicated Microsoft regards tablet computing as very significant, and he envisions Windows 7 slate systems taking over a major portion of the tablet market, in part because Microsoft’s partners will be available to develop a variety of systems targeting different markets, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.

“We want to give you a consumer-oriented device, but a device that fits and is manageable with today’s enterprise IT solutions,” Ballmer said in his presentation. “They’ll come with keyboards, they’ll come without keyboards, they’ll be dockable, there’ll be many form factors, many price points, many sizes. But they will run Windows 7.”

By using Windows 7, the devices will appeal to business and enterprise customers because they’ll be able to tie in directly with Microsoft-compatible security and management tools.

Other partners mentioned in Ballmer’s presentation included Fujitsu, Lenovo, MSI, Onkyo, MotionComputing, Hanvon, and even technology giant Hewlett-Packard. At the beginning of the year Baller showed off an HP slate computer running Windows 7 at CES in an effort to diffuse attention focusing on Apple’s iPad; HP has never shipped the device, and recently acquired Palm and its webOS.

Many industry watchers believe Microsoft needs to act quickly to establish a foothold in the tablet computing market, particularly on the consumer side: Apple sold more than three million iPads in less than three months’ availability, and is no doubt far into the development of its iPad successors, while Microsoft and its partners have yet to get competing products out the door. Microsoft may be able to move Windows 7 tablets into enterprises locked in to its platforms, but consumer tablets running Windows are going to have to do more than compare somewhat favorably to the iPad: they’re going to have to stand up to whatever Apple is doing next.