Microsoft’s decision to reveal little about the next version of the Windows operating system has left some of its partners in the ecosystem—as well as corporate customers—feeling as if they’re driving blindly into the future. Meanwhile, Microsoft displays the arrogance that has fueled its reputation as an evil monolith that wants global dominance at any and all costs.

All we’ve heard from Microsoft to date is that Windows 8 will support standards for Web application development: HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. More is expected to be revealed at the hastily arranged BUILD 2011 conference set for September, which seems to be the latest incarnation of Microsoft’s PDC. Clearly, the company is on the path toward its stated goal of becoming the largest hosting company in the world, and of making big inroads in the smartphone and tablet space. It hopes to achieve this by opening up its platform to all developers, not just those using Microsoft-centric languages and tools.

But what of that latter group of developers? Where does their future lie? Is it in ASP.NET? Not clear. Silverlight? Not likely beyond the phone. The .NET Framework itself? As Larry O’Brien pointed out in his insightful column (“How will Microsoft fill the gap?” p. 65), it seems to be the best solution for working in the space between the presentation layer and the systems layer, but as he also notes, Microsoft has been surprisingly quiet on this topic as well.

Microsoft’s partners and customers have ongoing projects and need to know the future of the platform they’re writing to, and of the tools with which they create their applications. As one partner told SD Times, “Windows 8 is locked down so much that even our contacts inside Microsoft don’t know” what’s in store.

This is just bad business. Companies have projects in the works that rely on the very technologies Microsoft now might abandon. If they’re building an application that’ll be done in four to six months, the platform should remain stable. But if they’re halfway through a two-year project that targets, say, Windows Presentation Foundation, and in September Microsoft says WPF is winding down, there’s greater concern.

We certainly understand a company wanting to hold its cards close to the vest so its competitors don’t have a chance to respond so quickly. It’s another thing to keep your customers and partners—those who rely on you and form the very lifeblood of your business—in the dark about future plans. It’s at the least unsettling, and potentially damaging to organizations that deserve better for their loyalty.

There are tablets, and there are iPads
Is 2011 the Year of the Tablet? If you watch the parade of new models from companies like the Motorola, RIM and Samsung, it seems that every consumer is going gaga for slab-shaped computers.

Yet it’s unclear if the tablet concept represents a broad multi-platform market—such as we see for servers, desktops, laptops, smartphones and cloud platforms—or if the market is overreacting to the runaway success of Apple’s iPad and iPad 2.

Clearly, in terms of market penetration, there is a huge distinction between Apple’s efforts and all of the company’s erstwhile competitors. Why has the iPad succeeded, while so far the Android, BlackBerry and Windows-based tablets have not?

The answer may be that the iPad has an entirely different design philosophy than, say, the Motorola Xoom or the RIM Playbook. Certainly we can see some of those differences in the marketing of the products.

The iPad and iPad 2 are not tablet-shaped computers; well, they are, but that’s not the message. They are consumer electronic devices, meant to be used to consume media. The iPad is an e-book reader, a movie player, a browser, a portable game platform. In that context, it’s not about the hardware, the memory, the processor, the ports. Apple doesn’t push the specifications, or talk much about feeds-and-speeds. It promotes the user experience, the cool factor, the lifestyle. The iPad is an expensive and sophisticated toy—not a computer.

By contrast, the Xoom and Galaxy Tab are positioned as tablet computers, and as alternatives to laptops and netbooks. Indeed, they are described in ways that make consumers envision lightweight laptops with touchscreens instead of keyboards. Thus, the emphasis on the USB ports, the expandable memory, the SD memory card reader, the dual-core processor, the Android operating system.

It’s a subtle but real distinction. The iPad is a consumer electronics device, like a television or car stereo. In that context, consumers are snapping them up as fast as Apple can manufacture them. The Android and BlackBerry tablets are computers, like a notebook or netbook. Computer buyers aren’t biting because in the computer context the tablet form factor is less functional than either notebooks or netbooks.

The bottom line is, to lump the iPad in with the other tablet-shaped devices into a single “tablet market” or “tablet opportunity” is misleading. We have a consumer tablet market, and we have a largely separate computer tablet market. Once the Android, BlackBerry and Windows tablet makers realize this, they’ll also realize more success against the iPad.