Microsoft to webcast next week's Surface event

Some observers see it as company's last chance in tablets; others pooh-pooh that idea, saying Redmond won't give up even if the new hardware bombs

Microsoft today confirmed that it will webcast its Surface event next week, boosting the chance that the company will reveal significant news and/or multiple products.

The on-premises part of the event, scheduled to start at 11 a.m. ET (8 a.m. PT) on Tuesday, May 20, is invite-only. Others, including customers, partners and even rivals, will be able to take in the presentation via a live webcast, Microsoft said in a brief announcement.

The webcast URL won't be disclosed until some time on Monday, May 19, the Redmond, Wash. company said.

Most expectations for the event have revolved around a smaller-sized Surface tablet, one with a screen 7- to 8-in. measured diagonally. But rumors of a multi-product roll-out have also popped up, triggered by Bloomberg, which claimed inside sources told the publication that other new models, including ones powered by Intel processors, would debut next week.

And today, several Windows-leaning bloggers cited a Microsoft support document, since pulled, that mentioned "Surface Pro 3" to bolster their speculation about the May 20 event.

The current Surface line-up consists of the Surface, the renamed Surface RT from 2012; the Surface 2, the follow-up and also powered by Windows RT; and the Surface Pro 2, Microsoft's 2-in-1 that runs Windows 8.1 and relies on an Intel CPU.

Microsoft unveiled the second-generation Surface devices in September 2013.

Some have characterized next week's event as a last chance for the company's tablet dreams.

"From my perspective, this is pretty much the make-or-break announcement for the Surface line," opined Hal Berenson, a former Microsoft manager and engineer, on his blog last week. "Whatever we see on the 20th [will be] the first devices that could have been seriously impacted by what Microsoft learned from the Windows 8 and Surface launch experience."

Others doubted everything hangs on next week's products.

"You have to step back and look at the Surface in the context of Microsoft's entire hardware business," said Bob O'Donnell, principal analyst at Technalysis Research. "With Nokia now part of Microsoft, it has a pretty sizable hardware business. The Surface is just part of the bigger picture of providing better-quality services on their own devices. This will continue to be the case as Microsoft continues to use Surface as their model for some of that."

Even if the products Microsoft unveils next week flop, or are instantly cast as duds by observers once the company reveals pricing and specifications, the firm won't bail out of the market.

"I don't see them giving up any time soon, regardless of the details [of the devices launched next week]," said O'Donnell. "We'll continue to see an evolution of the product line."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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