A reporter named Barry Collins covered a Ballmer speech story about Microsoft catching up with the iPad. Reading just a bit between the lines, it sounds like Ballmer, and Microsoft, really don't get it. Let me make a few points:
Collins says that Ballmer compared the tablet market to that of the netbook, where Microsoft ceded early ground to Linux-based machines before dominating the market. Now I remember how they dominated the netbook market: they made the biggest manufacturers of netbooks offers they could not refuse, to sell Windows versions of their netbooks. So I guess Microsoft will do the same thing here: they will make a deal with Apple to sell iPads running Windows. Not. Stevie B., it ain't tht simple.
Ballmer, again according to Collins, talks of working with various partners to produce various tablet products. That focus will not compete with Apple. Apple's iPad is not a tablet product; it is a computer that has been very carefully aimed at a bunch of markets, and it happens to look and feel like a tablet. Apple (or at least, Steve Jobs), saw these markets very clearly, and made sure the iPad would click with them. A bunch of slate products from Microsoft aren't even likely to reach "me too" status, unless Ballmer and Microsoft's marketing people understand that.
The iPad is easy to understand and use. I hope Microsoft can grok that, instead of working out complex software tie-ins to their many other somewhat incompatible offerings that are aimed at a lot of the same markets. How simple will their tablet/xBox tie-in be?
Clearly, Microsoft is not going to come up with a good iPad competitor overnight. They have to aim at what the iPad will become in three years, not what it is now. Mr. Ballmer, what is that target? Do you have a prayer of figuring it out, and developing that target product now?
The Zune took years to become a respectable product, and it never came close to implementing what its own manager said he expected to offer for it. Microsoft's attempts to conquer the clever-phone market suggest that their view is: Windows first, phone second. How are they going to do better in the iPad market?