Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have not been shy at lamenting Windows 8’s inability to add yeast to their slumping PC sales figures – Samsung Electronics’ president was the latest last week – but now Microsoft Corp. is striking back, and throwing the gauntlet back at the feet of the hardware vendors.

At Microsoft’s TechForum event last week, Craig Mundie, a senior advisor to CEO Steve Ballmer, said Microsoft got back into the hardware business and launched the Surface tablet, competing with the OEMs it relies on for software licensing revenue, because none of them were truly showcasing the potential of the Windows platform.

“I think one of the things evolved over a long time in the PC business was we stopped some years back really trying to actively curate what the devices looked like,” said Mundie. “We said, ‘oh the OEMs, that’s their design, they deal with it.’ We got huge diversity out of that at all possible price points, but it became hard to guarantee a uniform quality of experience that the end user had.”

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Surface is Microsoft’s attempt to show how Windows 8 and the touch-first interface can truly be leveraged, without relying on its OEM partners. In that sense, it has been successful. From a sales perspective, however, it has disappointed, due in part to a restrictive sales channel the vendor has at least partially rectified.

Last week, Samsung Electronics president Jun Dong-soo told reporters Windows 8 was no better than Windows Vista, and derided the Surface tablet as lackluster. And last year, Todd Bradley, head of Hewlett-Packard Co.’s printing and personal systems group, dismissed the Surface as well, calling “slow and a little kludgey.”

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