Microsoft's Surface Could Kill HP, Dell, Other PC OEMs

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News Posted: Thu, Jun 21 2012 3:40 PM
Microsoft's Surface isn't just an attempt to take on the iPad or an articulation of MS's independent design philosophy -- it's a fundamental threat against the OEMs who've spent decades as Microsoft's partners and collectively destroyed the industry's perception of the PC as a high-value product.

The adversarial roots run deep. Microsoft didn't tell its partners about Surface until three days before the event and gave only the most minimal details on the product. Only the largest vendors even got a phone call; Asus and Acer, the 4th and 5th largest PC manufacturers worldwide, have stated that they had no idea anything was coming.

For OEMs who have spent decades working in lock-step with Redmond, that's deeply unsettling. The "Vista Capable" lawsuit from several years back shed intimate light on this process; emails released to the public show Microsoft meeting with HP to set chipset requirements and discussing its plans with OEMs more than a year before the OS even shipped.

Sources close to Microsoft have told us that the software giant built Surface because it was unhappy with the way its traditional partners weren't innovating around its next-generation operating system. It's not hard to see the company's point. For years, Dell, HP, and other OEMs have competed solely on price in the consumer market. To be fair, Microsoft itself bears some responsibility for this -- during the Vista Capable lawsuit, it emerged that the company had deliberately weakened its own standards to let Intel sell weak integrated graphics solutions that never would've qualified under the original plan. HP, which had committed to Microsoft's original roadmap and shipped only notebooks with higher-end solutions, got tossed under a bus.

The situation, however, is far from being all Microsoft's fault. Companies like Dell and HP helped create this problem when they outsourced their own software development to the lowest bidder and accepted bribes from other software companies to stuff their systems with badly-written bloatware. HP has occasionally bucked this trend, but not consistently enough to make a lasting difference. As a result, IT websites publish semi-regular articles on how to remove all the crap you don't want from a system you just purchased.

Take a moment and consider just how insane that is. Car analogies might be overdone (and stock electronics aren't always the best), but imagine the equivalent article headlines in a host of other fields.
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He's so much cooler!

The DIY/whitebox market continues to exist in no small part because consumers are deeply distrustful of OEMs who shovel call centers off to India, ship cases with edges you could shave with, and who don't even have the guts to demand their software partners give them quality products with full-year subscriptions.

Don't mind the bloat. Enjoy your new PC!

Microsoft is pushing back because someone has to. Ask yourself this:  Would you trust a 3mm keyboard made by Dell, HP, or another major OEM? The answer, for me at least, is a dubious "Maybe." My experience with Microsoft-branded peripherals, in contrast, has been uniformly excellent. Zune may have failed to create an ecosystem for itself, but the products were well-built. My MS keyboards and mice have been flawless. The Xbox 360 had significant problems early on, but resolved and moved beyond them.

If Surface heats up, the other OEMs have two stark options. They can continue their race-to-bottom, devouring each other in consolidations and acquisitions until only the brand names are left and every PC component and system has been outsourced to Malaysia -- or they can start building names for themselves as innovators.

I'll close with this. I recently reviewed an HP Z620 workstation. I was astonished at the build quality. The system --a 16-core behemoth -- was whisper-quiet, the ducting and component spacing was excellent, the case was a svelte midtower that looked tiny sitting next to my Corsair 800D. You know the first thought that went through my mind?

"I'll be damned. HP still knows how to build hardware."

That's a perception the company can bank on, if its got the guts.
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JDiaz replied on Thu, Jun 21 2012 6:01 PM

Great article, and I sincerely hope OEMs decide to start building names for themselves as innovators.

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RiCoFrost replied on Thu, Jun 21 2012 7:21 PM

Some very interesting points, I am looking to purchase the pro surface and the phone myself. I've played around with windows 8 and I can see and understand what they are trying to do. Even testing on a 4 year old dell optiplex 755 its still runs very well, switching form screen to screen is very fluid.

As for bloatware its so true, every dell I've purchased for our company was formatted simply because there was so much crap on it. Since running a clean install of windows they run fantastic, been running windows 7 since release and never have problems, they where running Vista before and I think I still have 1 or 2 vista pc left which is still running without problems. Bottom line is first thing I do when i purchase a new computer form a vendor is format and install a clean windows installation.

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JDiaz replied on Thu, Jun 21 2012 9:51 PM

Just a added note on the format and clean installing... Everyone should remember to make a backup first as most systems don't come with a recovery disc anymore and the recovery partition isn't that reliable.

Even if you intend to wipe the system and put a different OS it's usually a good idea to keep a backup.

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RTietjens replied on Thu, Jun 21 2012 11:44 PM

Bullcrap. Ignorant self-proclaimed "pundits" have been trumpeting the death of the desktop PC ever since the iPad surfaced (pun intended). Microsoft's tablet isn't going to do what Apple couldn't do, because it's still totally useless for serious work on an 8-hour/day basis.

The MS Surface will no more kill PC OEMs than the iPad did. Period.

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JDiaz replied on Fri, Jun 22 2012 1:18 AM

You might want to actually read the article before reacting to it because it does not argue the end of desktop PC's but the reason why MS had to put forth its own hardware as a wake up call to those other companies that continue to not innovate, continue to lower quality, and allow more and more waste.

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FloydF replied on Fri, Jun 22 2012 1:48 AM

Interesting article, but i would argue most computer manufacturers don't manufacture anything, not do they engage in any research and development other than cosmetic design. Foxconn does most of their manufacturing, using off the shelf or Foxconn components. I switched to HP years ago when DELL laptops literly started falling apart on desks, and they had no solution other than keep calling them to have send someone to pur them back togather. That may be fine if you buy new computers before the warrenty runs out, but is a major disruption and shows they really could care less about Quality. I stopped using HP because I discovered they switched to Foxconn and are attempting to compete with Apple and i had to explain what service means to their tech support. When I purchased a high end business laptop and received a piece of junk with partially non-functional keyboard, 3 of 4 USB ports so far out of spec they cannot maintain a connection as well as other issues and they asked me to mail my computer in to be returned in 2 weeks. When I explained I have a next business day on site service warrenty, they said, there was no way they could fix it that quickly. To which I replied, it's your warrenty, fix it tomorrow or send a new machine that works. This is a far cry from just 2 years earlier when they offered to send a new computer to replace one with issues they could not diagnose over the phone. Unfortunately, almost everyone uses Foxconn. The only real distinction now is service and Apple has that hands down, but you pay a hefty premium for it. It is hard to do better than taking your device into their store where they hand you a new one, no questions asked.

The surface looks like a nice toy for social networking, which seems to be the focus of Windows 8 and windows phone..... The PC is driven by business use, not social networking. It would be for more interesting to see these morons who make predictions for a living actually analyze their accuracy or lack there of, I suspect they would do better flipping a coin, at least they had a chance at 50%, because they are rarely correct at predicting anything, even when they predict it to go both ways.

i have to add here, I also love the push to server based apps, not really. i work for a company who has invested heavily in server based apps and virtualization. The unfortunate thing I haven't heard the proponents discuss is the network overhead required, as well ad the lack of reliability of the internet itself. Sure you can save some money short term, but lost productivity and unexpected infrastructure improvements which don't fix the problem make a lot of these things unreliabale at best, and on average very costly initiatives which just don't come close to working as promised.

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nice writing !

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If Paul Thurrot is correct (and he is usually right about MS stuff, since he has tons of contacts in there), the "Surface demo" was just a prototype. There are none in production, and those who claim to have used the device may have been playing with a prototype, at best.

Until I see these in stores and I can actually take a look, I won't hold my breath. MS has had BS press conferences before. Does anyone remember the "Longhorn" fiasco, with the fancy UI and great usability? Yeah, and "Vista" turned out to be a great OS, didn't it? LOL

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are these manufacturers stuck on ms-windows oem? can't they start doing Linux OEM as some of them did 4 years ago on some netbooks? what are they waiting for kicking Microsoft out?

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OSunday replied on Sat, Jun 23 2012 12:47 PM

Decrapifier is an awesome application to remove crap bloatware installed on OEM machines!

That being said though the quality of manufacturer made desktops and laptops on everything but mostly the high end has been sub-par from what I've seen...

That's why I encourage the DIY route for desktops of Maingear and boutique builders for laptops of any kind

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JDiaz replied on Sat, Jun 23 2012 4:39 PM

There are some who do offer Linux pre-installed but there's a couple a reason why most don't.

Linux is mainly only dominant in the Server and embedded markets, where it's strengths give it a clear edge, but have never managed to get more than about 6% of the desktop user base. So anyone offering linux would be dealing with a much smaller market. This is further compounded by what distro they would have to choose would further limit that user base because linux users are divided upon literally hundreds of different distros.

Add then that the linux kernel is constantly evolving means they have to support version changes more often than they would with Windows, which can be compounded by breaks in API that could cause some apps to stop working or to act buggy until the linux community can address it or the company has to invest into solving the problem themselves but that'll cut into their profits and not all companies can afford to do so.

Mind this is one of the reasons why Red Hat is justified to actually charge for their services.

While lots of hardware has to deal with closed drivers, which Linux won't support, or drivers that don't come out until a long time after the new hardware is released. Meaning it's much harder to support the latest hardware with Linux than Windows.

Never mind the other market factors like Linux has a much tougher time supporting DRM than Windows that limits number of services and companies that would support Linux.

Meanwhile, Windows continues to be used on over 85% of all PC's and even on just new systems still represent about 40%. So is a much more appealing market for system makers to cater to for getting the largest number of potential costumers.

Though proponents of Linux aren't giving up, Linux has improved for usability considerably in the last couple of years. While they are trying new tactics like the re-merger of the Android Kernel with Linux Kernel 3.3 and onward means it's possible to configure a desktop Linux distro to work on top of a Android installation, which will likely be used for a desktop mode switch when a Android device is docked for example.

So give it a bit more time and you may see at least some alternatives you may prefer but note not everyone who prefers linux likes the idea because Android is less secure and Google doesn't adhere to open source all the time.

Though some are going the opposite route and considering making Linux work with Windows 8. Fedora and Red Hat for example have expressed they will likely pay the fee needed to get the license key so they can run on Windows 8/RT systems without needing to disable the secure boot feature... So the situation continues to evolve...

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