Microsoft marks down Windows, kicks in free Office to spark tablet sales

But analysts doubt the cuts and bundle will significantly boost sales

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Still, Moorhead saw the move toward smaller tablets -- and their lower prices -- as good for Microsoft, even if its discounts are actually negligible. "I think Microsoft will see more success with the 7-in., 8-in. tablets," Moorhead said.

It had better.

Other experts have noted a rapid shift in the tablet market to smaller displays -- IDC recently forecast that tablets 8-in. and smaller would account for 55% of sales this year -- and said that Microsoft had been forced to hustle before it was left behind.

The decision to cut prices and give away Office could be a signal that Microsoft realizes its late-to-the-party position, or it may simply be another sign that the company believes Office is key to selling anything powered by Windows.

Many analysts have concluded that Microsoft believes its best sales tool is Office, not Windows: They came to that judgment because Microsoft has not created versions of Office for the two largest mobile platforms: Android and iOS. Instead, the thinking goes, Microsoft is withholding Office on the rival OSes to wave it as a carrot for Windows tablets.

If that's the strategy in Redmond, it's not new: Microsoft played the same card last October when it launched Windows RT -- which has gotten a cold shoulder from most OEMs -- and has not driven demand for Microsoft's own Surface RT.

Miller questioned whether that same blueprint, repeated with Windows 8 tablets, smaller ones at that, holds much promise. "Office RT wasn't terribly touch optimized," he pointed out, adding that Office 2013 is even less so. "Sure, you can run other [Windows] applications on a Windows 8 tablet, but they're not optimized for touch either."

What's the point? he seemed to be saying.

Ultimately, Moorhead was more optimistic. "Microsoft is on track with their platform strategy," he said, immediately swinging to a caveat. "But they remain off-track with apps."

Apps, Moorhead said, remain the biggest barrier to Windows' success on tablets. And Miller concurred. Both have criticized Microsoft's Windows Store, not for the number of apps it distributes, but for a lack of high-quality apps.

"My concern is that if your collection of apps can't motivate people to buy the platform, the only alternative is to ride this pricing war to the bottom," said Miller. "It looks like Microsoft and the OEMs are giddily jumping on that. But [Windows tablets] must split the pie three ways, Microsoft, Intel and the ODM [original device manufacturer]. There's no way they can compete on price with Android, where only the ODM has to make money."

This article, Microsoft marks down Windows, kicks in free Office to spark tablet sales, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

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 gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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