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If not Android, then Windows 8?

As Android tries to find its footing in the tablet market, Microsoft may still have a large window of opportunity in 2012 with Windows 8. After ten years of trying, it appears to be on the right track.

As Google's Android continues to experience birthing pains in tablets, Windows 8 has emerged as an attractive, albeit still distant, alternative.

By the time Windows 8 tablets hit the market in 2012, Microsoft will have had ample time to analyze the initial missteps of the Android platform, not to mention its own unimpressive attempts at "slate" operating systems over the years. Generally speaking, Microsoft may miss with the first few whacks at something new but they're usually good at eventually nailing an operating environment. If only because of their tenacity. They will persevere for years, even decades, until they get it right.

With Windows 8, Microsoft has a good opportunity to deliver a solid competitive experience.
With Windows 8, Microsoft has a good opportunity to deliver a competitive tablet experience. Microsoft

And, in fact, it's been about a decade since Microsoft announced the tablet concept. At that time, Bill Gates infamously predicated at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas that "the tablet would become the most popular form of PC within five years...The size of a legal notepad and half the weight of most of today's laptop PCs."

Tack on a few years and that prediction may be getting close to the truth. Not at Microsoft or Motorola or Dell, but Apple.

Windows 8 may be a watershed, however. Thanks to Apple, Microsoft now has a much better idea of what a tablet should be. And tablets are large-screen (relative to smartphones) devices, an operating environment Microsoft is comfortable with. Better still, Windows 8 can tap into plenty of horsepower--another thing Microsoft is good at. By next year, chip suppliers like Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments will have improved dual-core--and, in some cases, quad-core--chips replete with improved graphics. Not to mention Intel's plans to beef up its next-generation Atom processor by next year.

And since Windows 8 will run on both Intel and the ARM design-based chips cited above, Win 8 tablets will appear quickly, possibly in the form of a Microsoft-branded slate.

Did I mention apps? Microsoft has a few universally used applications--some might say pre-baked killer apps--that may work well in a Windows 8 tablet format. In short, never underestimate the demand for Microsoft Office. Microsoft could also move the tablet interface forward in a big way with a technology like Kinect.

All of this, I think, lays the groundwork for a successful platform. My only fear is that Microsoft and its partners fall prey to PC-itis and design clunky, thick, heavy tablets laden with ports in an effort to shoehorn a laptop into a tablet format. That would be a big mistake. (And, yes, Android 4.0 will have arrived by then, so the competition in non-Apple devices will not go away.)

But barring that scenario, would you buy a Windows 8 tablet? I see it as potentially giving the iPad a run for its money and likely equal to anything Google can concoct in the next 12 months.