Surface tension: Acer needs to shut up about Microsoft tablet

The Taiwanese PC maker has been pretty vocal in its displeasure with Microsoft, but the comments aren't likely to make the software titan too happy.

Acer Aspire Sarah Tew/CNET
Acer may only be hurting itself by criticizing Microsoft.

The Taiwanese company, best known for its low-cost Netbooks from several years ago, has been one of the most outspoken opponents of Microsoft's new hardware push since the software giant first revealed its plans in June. Comments have ranged from pleas for Microsoft to change its plans to predictions Surface will flop. The common theme is that Acer believes Microsoft should stick to what it knows -- software -- and leave the hardware to its partners.

The problem with that criticism, though, is that it makes Acer look like a sore loser, kind of like a tennis player grousing over getting beaten by his former doubles partner.

Sure, all of the PC makers are upset. Microsoft has been their closest software partner for years, and the software giant blindsided them with its Surface tablet plans. Microsoft developed the tablet on its own and only notified companies a few days before its launch. But since that time, most computer markers have declined to publicly criticize Microsoft, instead focusing on their products.

"It creates an impression Acer can't compete," said Rob Enderle of tech research firm Enderle Group. "And it pisses off Microsoft."

Acer has been posting steep shipment declines in recent quarters, hurt in part by its exposure to the weak consumer market. Many people Netbooks, but that sector was killed by the iPad and other tablets, not to mention the recent thin-and-light PC push.

The company has said it's unsure if Windows will help revitalize the PC market, and it delayed its plans to build a Windows RT device. Acer, meanwhile, continues to post financial results that are weaker than expected.

While Acer already has been struggling, publicly criticizing Microsoft isn't likely to help things. Doing so could anger the software company at a time it needs all the support it can get.

For one, Microsoft could choose to highlight Acer products less at events and provide less marketing support. It also could give Acer limited access to early software or find other ways to make things uncomfortable for the company.

"To Microsoft, Acer must look like a difficult company to work with," Pat Moorhead, Moor Insights & Strategy principal analyst said. "If choosing partners to do innovative things with, probably at the bottom of your list is Acer."

Then there are consumers. If Acer consistently says its products can't compete with Surface, people will believe it.

However, some analysts say the commentary is "just noise" and won't really impact Acer, Microsoft, or the broader market.

Roger Kay, Endpoint Technologies principal analyst, noted that Acer has long been more rebellious than other PC makers, and it likely won't face many -- if any -- repercussions from its comments.

"In the old days, it would have," Kay said. "But it's not going to hurt them or help them... They're just grousing. At the end of the day, they will license from Microsoft just like they always have."

For some, it's refreshing to see a company so upfront about its frustrations. But it's probably not helping strengthen Acer's relationship with Microsoft. For now, at least, it still needs Microsoft, and that's not likely to change anytime soon.

Microsoft declined to comment. We've reached out to Acer and will update when we hear back.

 

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