Microsoft Corp introduced its own line of tablet computers on Monday at a much-hyped press event in Los Angeles, marking a major strategic shift for the software giant as it struggles to compete with Apple Inc and re-invent its aging Windows franchise.
The new tablet line, named Surface, includes a consumer device aimed directly at the Apple iPad, and another, larger machine designed to run the full suite of Windows software. Both include a keyboard that doubles as a cover for the device, and both will be powered by versions of the new Windows 8 operating system.
The move breaks with Microsoft’s operating model of the past 37 years, which has relied on computer manufacturers to make and market machines running Windows. It could throw the world’s largest software company into direct competition with its closest hardware partners such as Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Hewlett-Packard Co.
However, the success of Apple in recent years has underscored the benefits of an integrated approach to hardware and software, and Ballmer said on Monday that the company didn’t want to leave anything uncovered as it rolled out Windows 8.
The new software is the biggest overhaul of Windows in years, and features a new touch-friendly interface dubbed Metro. It is scheduled to be available for the Christmas shopping season.
The lighter, thinner version of the Surface tablet, built on an Nvidia Corp chip designed by ARM Holdings, will be the first to market at the same time as the general release of Windows 8, and will feature Microsoft’s popular Office suite of applications.