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Microsoft’s Anti-Apple Move: Debuting A Windows 8-Powered Tablet Next Week

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer may have misspoken when he said Windows 8 was coming in 2012, but now we hear MS will definitely demo a Windows 8 tablet PC next week. So its anti-Apple plans will get their first real public airing–just don’t expect Ballmer to be there.

Ballmer with Slate

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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer allegedly misspoke when he said Windows 8 was coming in 2012, but now we hear MS will demo a Windows 8 tablet PC next week. So its anti-Apple plans may get their first real public airing, but not Ballmer’s jittery fingertips.

Bloomberg is now reporting that Microsoft will be demoing a tablet running Windows 8, it’s tablet-centric makeover of its trademark Windows OS next week. This will happen possibly when Windows president Steven Sinofsky speaks at the AllThingsD conference, or when VP Steve Guggenheimer speaks at the huge Computex fair in Taipei. Three anonymous sources (count ’em…three!) have confirmed the news to Bloomberg, which certainly makes it seem highly believable. Though we don’t know who the manufacturer is yet, the tablet is apparently running Nvidia’s ARM-based Tegra chip, as many of the current crop of tablets do, and the news confirms a detail we’d heard earlier about Windows 8 arriving in several formats–including one compatible with ARM architectures, rather than Intel X86-based devices (as per Microsoft’s traditional CPU choice).

But Steve Ballmer definitely said Windows 8 wasn’t appearing until 2012 last week, as Microsoft’s PR flacks quickly swept in to clean up the Ballmer mess, noting that their own CEO had misspoken and that Windows 7 had plenty of life in it yet. So what gives? Is Microsoft about to demo its Windows makeover a whole year before an available product arrives? Or did Ballmer get the news backwards, and Windows 8 is actually due much sooner than we thought (at least for its tablet version)?

This is a mystery, though it’s worth noting that Ballmer himself did mention last week that Microsoft is in a “race” and though it’s doing “pretty well,” the company needs to push Windows very quickly into a variety of new form factors. We’ll assume the “pretty well” comment is another Ballmerism because Apple’s sewn up the vast majority of the tablet market, and Android has pretty much the rest of it already, meaning Windows 7 tablets are basically not being bought by anyone. And we’ll agree with the rest of this thinking because MS really does need to embrace the tablet paradigm speedily–otherwise the public will be totally won over by iOS and Android’s design and user interfaces. We also know tablets are eroding traditional PC sales, which sidelines Microsoft slightly too. And though MS is huge, it does risk being left behind like the last best-selling horse trader, pronouncing loudly that the newfangled motor car is a mere passing fad.

And Ballmer himself promised “lots” of Windows 7 tablets in 2010, very few of which emerged. He even demonstrated an HP Slate PC running the OS, in an awkward on-stage moment that had his clumsy fingers jabbing at and missing the small control buttons. That was before HP withdrew the device from development, then bought Palm and now appears to be centering its own tablet efforts on a webOS competitor. And remember, this is the guy who laughed at the iPhone back in 2007.

Microsofties will be excited by what Microsoft demonstrates next week, the rest of the computing world will watch with interest, Android and iOS fans will probably pronounce it “too little, too late” and business observers will ponder Ballmer’s future as MS’s CEO. Then within a week or so, MS’s efforts will be deftly booted out of the limelight as Apple showcases the next iteration of its already successful tablet OS at WWDC. There, we just saved you a week of wondering. You’re welcome.

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Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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