Microsoft Announces Pricing for Surface Pro

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Microsoft is moving ahead with the planned release of the enterprise version of its Surface tablet running Windows 8 Professional. Unlike the Windows RT model, the pro edition will run legacy apps. The bigger issue is whether the pro tablet will lift Windows 8 sales, and if it will be made available to the channel.

As promised, Microsoft Corp. will release in early 2013 the enterprise version of its Surface tablet running Windows 8 Professional, which will run legacy apps unlike the current Windows RT model.

In a Microsoft corporate blog yesterday, Panos Panay, general manager of Microsoft Surface, revealed that the 64 GB version will cost $899 and the 128 GB version will cost $999. Neither package includes the attached keyboard.

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Besides the operating system, the enterprise Surface is different in size and components. It’s slightly thicker and heavier than the RT model because it runs an Intel Core i5 processor and has three standard USB ports. It also includes SurfacePen and Palm Block technology that prevents the pressure from hands resting on the screen from impairing touch navigation.

Microsoft hasn’t given a firm release date, but the enterprise Surface models should hit the market sometime in January. Unclear is the go-to-market strategy, which could include allowing the legions of Microsoft partners to sell the tablet. The RT version is only available direct from Microsoft through its Web store and retail outlets. Microsoft has announced no plans to release Surface RT to the channel.

Just how the market will receive the high-end version of Surface will be interesting. At nearly $1,000 without accessories, the 128 GB model is more expensive than many high-end Windows 7 notebooks and desktops, and nearly twice as expensive as the Apple Inc. iPad.

Microsoft has previously stated Windows 8 will attract a new class of tablet users who want enterprise functionality and performance they can't get from Apple and Google Android tablets. This theory is being put to the test with the Windows RT version of Surface, as the tablet is currently on back order after the initial inventory sold out. Microsoft hasn’t disclosed Surface sales figures or the size of the initial inventory.

Overall, the debut of Windows 8 is mixed.

Earlier this week, Microsoft revealed that it sold more than 40 million units of Windows 8, putting it on a faster sales pace than Windows 7 in 2009. But Microsoft didn’t break out the figures between net-new sales and low-cost upgrades. Some analysts and partners believe Microsoft is stuffing the channel to inflate Windows 8 shipment numbers.

Yesterday, market research firm NPD said Windows 8 hasn’t lifted PCs sales, and sales of notebooks and desktops have slid since Windows 8’s release in late October. NPD attributes the sluggish sales to a weak back-to-school season that’s left a large inventory of computers in warehouses. The firm believes the holiday season could help.

The bright spot in NPD’s tracking is touch-enabled notebooks running Windows 8. Those machines are selling well, appealing to PC users who want the benefits of a tablet without sacrificing the functionality or performance of a notebook.

Demand and sales of the enterprise Surface running Windows 8 Professional will be a significant test for Microsoft, which knows its relevancy and future viability rests with Windows 8 and its various hardware platforms. The Surface Pro’s failure could cause OEM partners -- including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. -- to curtail their enterprise tablet strategies.

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