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Cracks in Microsoft's Surface RT

Microsoft's tablet-notebook fusion device gets off to a slow start.

If people don’t like Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet-notebook fusion hardware for Windows 8, they should stick around for the enterprise-ready version coming out early next year, CEO Steve Ballmer says.

That device, Surface Pro, is based on Intel processors and has a higher-resolution screen than Surface RT. It can also run any application that Windows 7 supports as well as the Windows Store applications that are specifically designed to exploit Windows 8’s touch-centric user interface.

Surface RT on the other hand supports only the new Windows Store applications and is powered by an ARM processor.

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Ballmer told French newspaper Le Parisien that sales so far of Surface RT have been just modest, but that the high-end Surface is coming soon, according to a choppy Google translation of the story.

That modest start for Surface RT and perhaps the success of Surface Pro could be hurt by a reported problem with the devices’ dual cover/keyboard. These 3mm-thick keyboards have reportedly split along the hinge end where they magnetically attach to the screen portion of the device.

So far Microsoft has been replacing them, but it has to get to the bottom of the problem and fix it, and presumably it will, the sooner the better.

If enterprises like the form of Surface devices enough to buy them, they will have a distinct choice between Surface RT and Surface PRO.

Surface RT won’t natively support applications written for x86 systems, so that could pose a problem for workers who need such applications. But the devices could fulfill certain needs, such as accessing email, messaging and even videoconferencing. Surface RT also comes with a version of Office, so workers could write documents, spreadsheets and the like, although that might require a license upgrade to allow for commercial use.

Surface Pro, on the other hand, can be considered a full traditional Windows laptop, supporting any application that is supported by Windows 7. In addition, it can act as a tablet to take advantage of the touch-centric nature of Windows 8 and Windows Store applications.

Surface RT pricing starts at $499 without the keyboard, $599 with it. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet for Surface Pro.

Ballmer has been traveling a lot since the launch of Windows 8, appearing in New York City for the big event itself, then attending Microsoft’s Build 2012 developers’ conference on the Microsoft Redmond, Wash., campus, then in Israel seeking big-data expertise, then to France where he admitted that the initial reaction to the Surface RT is modest.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

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