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Consumer version of Surface could hit by 2011

After originally planning to hit the home market in five years time, Microsoft is now aiming for three. First, though, it has to get up and running with its initial customers.

In targeting casinos, restaurants, and hotels, Microsoft knows it is barely scratching the surface of the demand for its tabletop computer.

The company is convinced there is a mass market for an interactive touch-screen computer, but perhaps not in its current $10,000 version. CEO Steve Ballmer told financial analysts last month that Microsoft had a plan to speed up the arrival of a consumer version of the tabletop computer Surface.

Mark Bolger, marketing director for Microsoft's surface computing unit, shows off the tabletop computer in May. Microsoft hopes to have a version for the home market by 2011. Ina Fried/CNET

Originally, Microsoft had said it could take up to five years for a home version of Surface, but Microsoft is now aiming to have that out in three years' time, according to an interview that Microsoft's Tom Gibbons did with Fortune magazine.

"In the three-year time window, we absolutely see how to get there," Gibbons told Fortune. "If we can beat that, we'll try to beat that."

But before it can focus on the home market, Microsoft still needs to work on satisfying the initial customers for the product. When it announced Surface in May, Microsoft was aiming to have its initial customers with products in hand by years' end. By the fall, though, CNET reported that Microsoft was unlikely to meet its goal.

"We're running a couple of months later than I'd like with our deployments, Gibbons said in the Fortune interview. "While I was hoping we'd have something out now, we'll definitely have something out in the next couple of months."