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Surface tablets may be heading to retailers soon

Redmond is set to begin selling its Surface RT devices through non-Microsoft retail stores in two phases, a source tells one Windows watcher.

Mary Jo Foley
Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network.
Mary Jo Foley
2 min read
Microsoft's new Surface tablet
Microsoft's Surface tablet Microsoft

Chalk this one up as a one-source rumor. But the source is supposedly pretty solid, according to my Windows Weekly cohost Paul Thurrott.

Thurrot said he was told by one of his most trusted sources that Microsoft is poised to begin making its own Surface RT devices -- the ARM-based pablets/TCs running the Windows RT operating system -- available through channels beyond Microsoft's own brick-and-mortar and online stores. And this is supposedly happening sooner rather than later, he blogged today.

Phase one of the rollout will happen in markets where there are no Microsoft brick-and-mortar stores, meaning everywhere but the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. In select countries (no word right now as to which ones), Microsoft plans to allow retail chains to sell the Surface RT devices. Thurrott said this is going to happen "within days."

(It's worth noting there is one non-Microsoft retailer already selling Surfaces directly. That is Suning in China.)

Phase two of the rollout is slated for January, when Microsoft is going to expand distribution of its Surface RT and its Surface Pro devices (the ones based on Intel's Core i5 and running Windows 8) to include major retailers, including Best Buy and Staples, according to Thurrott's sources. The Surface Pros are slated to be available starting in January.

Microsoft intentionally limited initial distribution of its Surfaces supposedly so as not to hurt its PC- and tablet-making partners. (I'd think component/parts availability and time needed to ramp up manufacturing and distribution probably played into this decision, too.)

When the Redmondians first shared publicly its Surface plans in June, officials stated that "both (Surface tablets) will be sold in the Microsoft Store locations in the U.S. and available through select online Microsoft Stores." Officials declined to comment on when and whether Microsoft planned to broaden distribution of its Surfaces. I've asked again today to see if the Softies will change their no comment on this and will add anything I get back to this post.

There have been reports -- again, about which Microsoft officials have declined to comment -- that Microsoft has not sold as many Surfaces as it expected to. Given how few Microsoft Stores exist, even when holiday pop-up stores are included in the total, it wouldn't be all that surprising that the devices haven't been flying off shelves.

Will broader distribution, if and when this happens, be enough to boost supposedly lagging sales -- especially during the crucial pre-Christmas buying season? Given how few Windows 8 and Windows RT touch tablets are in the market at present, it couldn't hurt....

This story originally appeared at ZDNet under the headline "Microsoft to push Surface tablets through retailers in two-phase rollout?"

Always On
Watch this: Unboxing the Microsoft Surface tablet