Though Microsoft is one of the premier software companies in the world, and also has a proud history in manufacturing (producing high quality mice, keyboards, and – of course – the ultra-popular Xbox and Xbox 360 videogame consoles), its previous stance when it came to computers involved outsourcing the production of the hardware to different companies. But yesterday they announced that they will be both producing and programming their latest product: the Microsoft Surface Tablet, a device intended to uncompromisingly bridge the gap between the power of a P.C and the versatility and portability of a tablet computer. It’s a bold move: with Apple accounting for fully two thirds of the tablet market, it’s difficult to conceive of a company with no prior experience with computer manufacturing breaking successfully into the tablet market. But despite their comparative lack of experience, Microsoft have made a clever decision in deciding to take full control of their tablet computer; one similar to Apple’s recent decision to launch their own mapping system, rather than rely on Google Maps, or Samsung’s recent decision to utilize Bada instead of the Android OS on their entry level Smartphones – essentially, it’s not a great idea to rely on companies you’re in competition with in other areas. Both Apple and Samsung have a healthy mistrust of Google (proprietor of both Google Maps and the open source Android OS) because it has an impetus to harvest their customer’s data for advertising purposes: ergo, they are trying to become more self-sufficient, and cut Google off at the source (or at least stymie their efforts). Similarly, Microsoft could have outsourced hardware production to a company like Intel or Samsung, but by doing so they are essentially ‘sleeping with the enemy’. Additionally, by overseeing all aspects of both design and programming, Microsoft ensure that the Surface Tablet really is their device, custom made from the ground up and thus guaranteed to contain all of the features they desire. And what are those features, you may be wondering? Well, sadly, Microsoft hasn’t released all of the specifications for their device yet, but the ones they have are fairly promising. They pledge to create two versions of the Surface Tablet: a smaller and weaker variant (weighing 676g at 9.3mm thick, designed with Windows RT and low-power processors in mind), and the Pro version (weighing 903g at 13.5mm thick, running the standard Windows 8 OS and designed for standard Intel chipsets). Both, however, possess 10.6” HD screens, a case incorporating a thin (and optional) keyboard peripheral, and a kickstand so users can watch the screen without straining their hands. While the Pro tablet has a maximum of 128GB memory, the RT version has a peak of only half that (and its standard version is a mere quarter, at 32GB). The Microsoft press release that accompanied the unveiling states that the Surface Tablet has a full sized USB port, a 16:9 aspect ratio and 22 degrees angled edges, meaning that even the weaker RT version should have no issue with running full 1080p HD video. So far, reaction to the device has been mixed. Most pundits are impressed by the design of the Surface Tablet: one stalwart Apple blogger even grudgingly conceded that Microsoft could make substantial money by simply revamping the Surface Tablet case for the iPad, since it is so innovative and attractive. But the prevailing opinion is that there are not enough details about the specifications to make an informed judgement about the Surface Tablet yet. And almost everybody feels that Microsoft may be jeopardizing its relationships with other companies (such as Samsung, manufacturer of a previous Microsoft tablet computer) – analyst Michael Gartenberg speculated that “Microsoft felt they could not rely on others to deliver on their vision for Windows 8 in mobile computing”. Will Microsoft’s former partners resent their decision to stand on their own two feet, and withdraw support? And if they did, would Microsoft be capable of producing their own hardware in the long term? And – most seriously of all – is the fledgling Surface capable of going head-to-head with the ubiquitous iPad and coming out on top? Only time can tell if Microsoft’s decision to diversify will be a good one.