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Windows tablets for holidays won't rival iPad

Microsoft CEO reiterates there will be Windows 7-powered slates later this year. CNET's Ina Fried notes there's a big difference between a Windows 7 slate and a true iPad rival.

Speaking in London today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer again mentioned that there would be Windows 7-based tablet computers in time for the holidays. However, there's a big difference between a tablet running Windows 7 and something that truly can rival Apple's iPad.

Microsoft may have Windows 7-based tablet computers in time for the holidays. But that doesn't mean it will have an iPad rival. Apple

There will be a lot of Windows 7 PCs this holiday, including some in new shapes and sizes. But, Ballmer has been saying that for months now.

What makes the iPad unique isn't its shape or small size. Microsoft has had tablets for nearly a decade, including some that are pretty small and light.

And Steve Ballmer knows that, which explains why he has been careful in his comments. Addressing the topic at July's financial analyst meeting this summer, he said that Microsoft has work to do on the software front and some of that effort will take time to bear fruit.

"They'll be shipping as soon as they are ready," Ballmer said at that gathering, offering few details on the products, which he said will come from partners, not Microsoft itself. "It is job one urgency. No one is sleeping at the switch."

Microsoft and its hardware partners may well have some Windows 7-based devices that even look like an iPad at some point. We could see some interesting products at Microsoft's October 11 event in New York or in the days to come. Heck, there are even some tablets out there now including a single-screen Hanvon product in China and Toshiba's dual-screen Libretto, which has sold in limited release in the U.S.

But to really take Apple head-on Windows-based machines will need far better battery life and something close to the instant-on experience that the iPad provides. That requires changes in software and hardware, none of which will come by the holidays.

Anyway, here's what Ballmer had to say on the tablet at a speech at the London School of Economics, according to a rough transcript.

"We, as a company, will need to cover all form factors, and certainly we have done work around the tablet as both a productivity device and a consumption device. You know, I've been looking around the world today, and frankly, the people who are typing with a keyboard look more comfortable physically than the people I've seen typing without. And yes, I can tell you how much of what is in the audience. I can tell you how many Macs; I can tell you how many Windows machines; I can tell you how many phones people use; and I'll tell you how many iPads are in the room. I won't do that right now, but I could. That's kind of my job. I get paid to count that."

"And so exactly where the form factors are and how they evolve - and you'll see, you know, slates with Windows on them. You'll see them this Christmas. You'll see them continue to change and evolve. But if you really want most of the benefits of what a PC has to offer - the ability to create and consume, take documents of all types - a form factor that actually has been tuned for a lot of things over a number of years, we certainly have a superior device, and you'll see us continue to expand the footprint that Windows does a good job of targeting over time."