Microsoft's week involved rumors of Windows tablets, some new Bing features, and yet another round in the never-ending competition against arch-rival Google.
For people who follow Microsoft, this week offered a distinct sense of d??Â«j??Ã
, with rumors suggesting the company plans to reveal a new line of
Windows 7 tablets during the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show. Should that
come about, it would essentially be a repeat of January 2010, when Microsoft
CEO Steve Ballmer used his keynote to unveil a tablet from Hewlett-Packard
along with offerings from two smaller manufacturers.
According to unnamed sources speaking to The New York Times, one of the
tablets will be "similar in size and shape to the Apple iPad," although "not as
thin." It will feature a "slick" slide-out keyboard and run Windows 7 in
landscape mode with "a layered interface that will appear when the keyboard is
hidden." The Times' Dec. 13 article suggested that tablets
from Dell and Samsung
will make an appearance at CES.
Even as Apple's iPad continued its months-long sales rampage, and a growing
number of Android-based tablets threaten to take market share of their own,
Microsoft has dipped only its littlest toe in the tablet market: HP's
reportedly had a limited production run, although demand may
drive a wider release.
Microsoft executives claim that next year's release of Intel's "Oak Trail"
Atom processor will power a new generation of Windows tablets. "Oak Trail is
designed to be lower power," CEO Steve Ballmer said during this summer's
Financial Analyst Meeting. "Lower power is good in a lot of ways. It leads to
longer battery life, no fan, lower kind of noise levels, a lot less weight-a
lot of things people like."
Combined with the rumors about CES 2011, it seems that Microsoft really is
preparing to compete more directly against the iPad and other tablet devices.
However, the company will have to face down not only Apple and Google but also
Research In Motion's PlayBook, which is expected to target the enterprise.
Microsoft's failure to capitalize on the tablet market threatens to
challenge it substantially, according
to a Dec. 13 research note from Goldman Sachs analyst Bill Shope
would be the first time in three decades that a non-Wintel technology has made
legitimate inroads into personal computing," Shope wrote. "What is surprising
is that many of these products are not utilizing Intel microprocessors or a
Microsoft operating environment."
Microsoft's reputation has always been that of a "fast follower," or having
the capability to recognize growing trends and either embrace or crush them.
That served the company well with products like Internet Explorer, which
quickly overran Netscape on its way to dominating the 1990s browser market. In
recent years, however, a general acceleration in tech trends-particularly in
mobile devices-seems to have caught Microsoft proverbially flatfooted; instead
of responding quickly to emerging categories such as smartphones and tablets,
the company has often struggled to formulate a winning response even as its
competitors race ahead.
With Bing, its search engine, Microsoft seems determined to play that
particular game of catch-up for as long as it takes. On Dec. 15, the company
unveiled updates to Bing, including new features for its Bing for Mobile application
for the iPhone and Android. Bing Maps aesthetics have also been tweaked, with
improved color contrast for streets and improved highway symbols.
"The core of our work addresses the fact that the Web is getting more
complex and faceted-not less," Microsoft Online Services Division Senior Vice President
Satya Nadella wrote
in a Dec. 15 posting on the Bing Community blog
. "This evolution challenges
us and the industry to more thoughtfully define search quality as more than
just speed or how well we've matched links to your query."
According to research company comScore, Bing occupied some 11.8 percent of
the search engine market in November, dwarfed by Google's 66.2 percent, but
good for a year-over-year increase of 31 percent. In an effort to increase Bing's
ubiquity across the Web, Microsoft is also leveraging its partnership with
Facebook. "Starting today, if your search results include a specific link that
has also been -liked' by someone in your Facebook network the link will be
highlighted as -Liked' within Bing," Paul Yiu, Bing's group program manager, wrote
in a Dec. 15 posting on the Bing Community blog
. The feature is currently
available only to users in the United States.
Microsoft is also trying to swipe at Google in other areas, particularly
cloud-productivity applications for businesses. In what threatens to become a
trend, Microsoft Online Services Senior Director Tom Rizzo took to the Why
Microsoft blog to knock the search engine giant's offerings.
"If you haven't seen, Google recently announced a new service for Microsoft
Exchange Server: Google Message Continuity for Exchange Server," Rizzo
wrote on Dec. 16
. "The Google solution is cumbersome. It requires a lot of
heavy lifting not only by IT but also by end users who have to navigate to
Gmail, either through the Web interface or hope they can connect through
Outlook with additional client software required by Google."
Exchange users, Rizzo added, should "ignore this service." That attack
echoed his Dec. 1 posting on the blog, following Google's announcement of a new
contract to provide Gmail and Google Apps to the General Services
Administration, in which he derided those applications' ability to "meet the
basic requirements" for business needs.
Even as it focuses on expanding to areas such as tablets and the cloud,
however, Microsoft also continues to maintain some of its key existing assets. In
the final 2010 Patch Tuesday update
, the company delivered some 17 security
bulletins and 40 security fixes, including one for an Internet Explorer
vulnerability from November.