Microsoft's Surface tablet fire sale now under way

With various discounts on Microsoft Surface tablets now in play, it looks like Microsoft is trying to clear out old stock

Microsoft is trying hard to get its Surface tablets out the door. If you've waited this long to buy one, you might want to wait a few weeks more to see what shakes out; big sales like these usually presage a new version of the hardware waiting in the wings. While it's hard to say with Microsoft, because there's no track record for Microsoft hardware clearance sales, it's a good bet that new Surfaces are just around the corner.

Two weeks ago I mentioned that many Microsoft Stores worldwide offer a free Type Cover with every Surface RT sold. That deal is still in effect, although several of the links have changed. In fact, the offer's been improved to include your choice of a Type Cover or a Touch Cover. If you buy a Surface RT from the Microsoft Store in any of these countries, Microsoft will toss in a $120 Touch Cover or a $130 Type Cover for free: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy (only the Touch Cover is available), Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. I still haven't seen any official announcement from Microsoft about this significant and widespread discounting.

That's just for starters.

Staples has a habit of discounting computers as a normal marketing technique. Three months ago, for example, Staples offered a coupon good for a $75 discount on any Windows computer -- including Surface tablets.

Earlier this week the Windows Phone Central site reported that Staples was discounting 32GB Surface RT machines from $499 to $399. This isn't an online offer, it's in-store only -- and it's not clear if you can walk into a random Staples store and come away with a $399 machine. Poster NoRomBasic says on the site: "Just bought one for my wife at the Staples in Bloomington, Ind., for the $399 price. The sale was not listed on their display and the sales staff had no idea but when they checked in their system the sales price (through tomorrow) was confirmed. So it's for real, but you might have to ask someone to look into it when you get there."

Did a Staples clerk accidentally post the wrong price on the POS system? Did someone jump the gun on a sale due to start shortly? Hard to say -- although the WPC report includes a photo that shows a Staples $399 price tag on a 32GB Surface RT. DealNews reports: "Sorry, this offer is expired."

Here's the kicker. Microsoft announced a few hours ago that it was going to sell specific Surface machines to TechEd attendees at screamingly low prices. The 64GB Surface RT tablet with a Touch Cover goes for $100 (regularly $699); and the 128GB Surface Pro machine without a cover runs $400 (regularly $999). If you attend TechEd June 2 to June 6, you can pick up one of each. Here's the announcement:

As loyal members of the Microsoft family, we are excited to provide TechEd North America 2013 attendees a special offer on Surface. This offer will allow each of you to get your hands on one or both Surface devices and, when it becomes available, update them to Windows 8.1 Preview to test drive it

While that isn't exactly singing to the choir, it's certainly selling to loyal members of the family -- almost 10,000 of them, if this year's TechEd sells out like last year's. It's hard to imagine a more receptive crowd for Surface RTs discounted 86 percent or Surface Pros discounted 60 percent -- hard to imagine a better way to dump 20,000 Surfaces, too.

(I have to wonder why Microsoft chose to emphasize that you'll be able to update the Surfaces to Windows 8.1 MP -- after all, every Windows 8 computer can be updated to Windows 8.1. Surely TechEd attendees realize that, don't they?)

Face it: These kinds of offers would not come from a company struggling to build enough Surfaces to satisfy demand. It sure sounds to me like a company that has many tens of thousands of the things lying around, with lots of Touch Covers. Microsoft wants to get rid of them before they're only good for landfill -- if that.

With Intel's new Hasewll chips due to ship on June 2 and the rumored 50 percent improvement in battery life associated with those chips, I think it's a fair bet that Surface has Haswell in its future, and the Surfaces being sold now will look like plodding profligates in a month or two.

Buyer beware.

This story, "Microsoft's Surface tablet fire sale now under way," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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