Bill Gates Caricature

Microsoft’s Surface tablet has been out for a while now, and it hasn’t exactly been setting sales records. Coincidentally (or not, depending on how cynical you are), Microsoft’s ex-CEO and current Chairman Bill Gates now weighs in on what he believes are two of the iPad’s glaring deficiencies: no keyboard and no Microsoft Office.

Does he have a point? Maybe. But only one. Not two.

Whaddya mean, no keyboard?

When I read Gates’ comment that iPad users miss having a keyboard, I had to laugh. First, it’s not like there aren’t a ton of aftermarket keyboards out there. And as Sam will tell you, it is possible to do touch typing on even the screen keyboard. Granted, it’s not as comfortable, but life is full of little tradeoffs. You’re on a portable computer, dude. Deal with it. (And has Gates not heard of voice-to-text?)

No Office? Well, sort of

The lack of Office is a more serious charge. Like it or not (and regardless of the free and/or cheap alternatives out there), Microsoft Office is the most widely-used office productivity suite out there. If you’re in the fortunate position of never having to exchange Word files with anyone, then you can use whatever software you like. But clients and co-counsel are increasingly insisting on getting work product in editable form, so the likelihood you’ll encounter a Word file isn’t decreasing anytime soon.

The decision to offer Office on a non-Microsoft tablet isn’t necessarily a no-brainer. As Google’s Director of Chrome and Apps Alan Masarek pointed out in last week’s Tablet Strategy conference, Microsoft needs to figure out whether it’s a software company or a platform provider. If the latter, the company needs to re-think its stance on Office on non-Windows devices. (Rumor is it already has.) But the price-to-feature ratio may still be unacceptably high.

So the relatively few souls who’ve joined the clicking dancers in Microsoft’s Surface commercials may have an advantage over the rest of us. But how much of an advantage, and for how long?


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