Questions lurk below Microsoft's Surface

Microsoft's new tablet PC comes with a ton of hype and a truckload of unanswered questions, including one from Cringely: Why now?

This just in: Microsoft has announced that CEO Steve Ballmer will be teaming up with Axl Rose and Tommy Lee to form a superband called Guns N Ballmers, which is planning a major U.S. stadium tour this fall.

Anyone buying that one?

[ In light of the news, Cringely respectfully retracts last week's claim that Microsoft's iPad killer was a not-so-true Hollywood story. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

Last week I predicted that Microsoft screwing over its longtime hardware partners to build its own tablet PCs was about as likely as Steve Ballmer donning full-body tats and becoming a heavy metal musician.

We all know how that turned out. Now deeply humiliated, I am officially seeking asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy -- or I plan to, once they get rid of that annoying Australian guy desperately in need of a dye job.

The surprise reveal of Surface, Microsoft's don't-call-it-an-iPad-killer tablet, achieved the desired effect: People are talking about -- heck, even excited about -- Microsoft for the first time in a long while.

But what exactly they're excited about is still an open question. The introduction of the aptly named Surface offered a shimmery reflection but very little substance. InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard runs down most of the dozens of questions the announcement leaves unanswered, like who's actually building these things for Microsoft, what they are going to cost, and when anyone outside of Redmond can put their grubby hands on one of them.

Aside from some pretty pictures, we're left with almost as little information as we started with last week. Or as GalleyCat's Jason Boog puts it:

The devices feature an attachable keyboard, a nifty kickstand, and one model even has a stylus–all important tools for the mobile author. Nevertheless, they did not reveal a price for the new tablet and nobody had firm release date. You have to wait.

We waited an hour to see the device up close.... When we finally got to touch the tablet, we asked to see the Kindle or Barnes & Noble eBook app -- but they weren't prepared to show that yet. You have to wait. We asked to see the stylus in action up close, but they weren't demonstrating that either. You have to wait.

While Microsoft clearly ripped a few pages from the Apple Bible with its last-minute planning and mysteriously cryptic invitations, it is falling down badly in one area Apple generally does right: Get these things in people's hands as soon as they can. As ZDnet's Ed Bott said prior to the big announcement:

Whatever Microsoft unveils tomorrow, I hope it's not another big announcement of an exciting future product that won't reach customers for 4-6 months or maybe even until next year.

Announce, excite, ship. If Microsoft has learned anything from Apple, that should be the biggest takeaway.

Instead we got: Announce, excite, and let us get back to you in four or eight months. Apparently Microsoft didn't learn enough from Apple.

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