TechEd attendees call Surface discount deal 'crazy'

Either that or Microsoft is hoping for an amazing word-of-mouth benefit

Microsoft TechEd

Microsoft TechEd attendees wait in line to purchase Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets at a deeply discounted price.

NEW ORLEANS -- Microsoft has lost its corporate marbles with an offer of about $1,100 off a bundle of its Surface RT and Surface Pro tablet/laptops at its TehEd North America 2013 user conference. At least that's what some of those taking advantage of the deal say.

"They're crazy," says Rosan Dsouza, a software developer at the University of Maryland who stood in line for an hour and 45 minutes during the conference to buy both devices for $500.

The normal Microsoft Store price for the bundle is $1,600.

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Attendees can buy either of the devices outside the bundle at a discount as well. The 128GB Surface Pro costs $400 (no keyboard); the 64GB Surface RT with a keyboard costs $100. At normal price the keyboard alone costs $119.

"You can't beat this," Dsouza says. He thinks Microsoft is trying to reward loyalty by offering the deal to people with a proven affinity for Microsoft. In return, he thinks Microsoft expects them to create more Windows Phone and Windows 8 applications that can help boost business in those two areas.

Doug Reuter, a software developer from Wisconsin, says the deal is a marketing scheme. "The best way to get people to adapt to a technology is to make it very easily available to people from all over the country," he says. "You want people to take it home, fall in love and spread the gospel."

Still, the deal, which he heard about through an email, sounded too good to be true. "I saw the price, and I thought it was spam," he says.

Attendees spent more than three hours queued up to buy the devices, forgoing some of the TechEd learning sessions to do so. One woman says she lined up three and a half hours before the sales booth even opened Sunday and wound up number seven in line.

Jose-Miguel Colon, the IT director for the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau says he already has a Surface Pro the bureau bought for him but wanted another for home use.

He can't put, for example, the Xbox SmartGlass companion app on it because that would violate his own rule against installing non-work apps on convention bureau equipment. He bought an RT along with a Pro because the deal was so good, and plans to give it to his 10-year-old daughter who already has an iPad.

Colon thinks Microsoft has two reasons for the sale. First, a larger 256KB Surface Pro is already available in Japan and will be here soon so the current Pro prices will drop anyway. And getting them into the hands of people who are dedicated enough to Microsoft to attend TechEd will attract more interest.

"It's like a virus," he says. "If I give this device to IT people, and the start using in and recommend it in their own business, it's just a matter of time before the boss says, "What's that? I want one."

Dionel Rodriguez, who's in IT support at Lender Processing Services in Florida, says the deal looks like a bold attempt to drum up interest in Surface and grab the attention of iPad customers. "If [Surface RTs] were $99 in stores they would sell like hotcakes," he says.

Nathan Heusdens, also with LPS, already had a Surface RT but bought another for his wife and thinks the promotion will serve Microsoft well. "Once it's in people's hands, they will like it," he says.

Dino Mehmedagic, a developer for Stein Mart, says getting the Surface RT into the hands of professionals will help dispel the idea that it is "like a big phone only lacking a number of features." Purchasers will show them to friends and the result will be word-of-mouth marketing among an influential buying group.

Kyle Comboy, a systems administrator at CSC, says he thinks Microsoft might be using the sale as a way to unload some inventory ahead of the expected Surface hardware upgrade later this year.

But putting it in the hands of IT pros also ups the chances that businesses will embrace them or similar devices that are based on Windows 8 for their bring-your-own-devices programs. "If you get them in the hands of IT professionals it gives them a better chance to put them through their paces to see how they would fare as BYOD devices," Comboy says.

Kathrine Hale, a software developer at Ajilon Australia, says the company is looking more at mobility and the Surface devices will help her assess their value in that environment.

From Microsoft's perspective, getting influential professionals to use Windows 8 devices might light a fire under Microsoft partners to develop more products for Windows 8. "If [Microsoft] gets more developers on Surfaces, developers can get more Microsoft partners to work with us," she says.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

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