Desktops and Notebooks: Microsoft Surface Tablets: Latest in the Company's 30-Year Hardware History
Microsoft surprised many in the industryand certainly many of its PC-manufacturing partnerswhen CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage at a June 18 event to unveil the Surface tablets, Microsoft-branded devices that will feature both versions of the software giant's next-generation operating system, Windows 8 for x86-based Intel chips and Windows RT for ARM's chip architecture. But while the Surface tablets may have been a jolt to some, they're only the latest devices from Microsoft in its 30-year history of designing and building hardware products. The company's Hardware Group launched in 1982, and a year later introduced its first producta PC-compatible mouse. Over the past three decades, Microsoft has compiled a string of hardware hits (Xbox, mice, keyboards) and several notable failures (Zune, Kin, Courier). With the Surface tablets, Microsoft is making another attempt to dig deeper inroads into the booming mobile device space, taking on the likes of Apple's wildly popular iPad and similar systems using Google's Android OS. At the same time, Microsoft will now find itself competing directly with the systems makersfrom Hewlett-Packard and Dell to Acer, Lenovo and Asusthat have been longtime PC manufacturing partners. However, it will be up to consumers and business users to determine whether the Surface tablets are Kins or Xboxes.
Two years before Microsoft's Hardware Group was created, the company released its first hardware product. In 1980, Microsoft rolled out the Z-80 Softcard, a plug-in card for the Apple II computer. The card enabled Apple II users to run Digital Research's CP/M operating system and supporting software.