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Microsoft to Finish Windows 8, Unroll Tablet Strategy to Challenge Apple

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Google's Android failed to dent Apple's lead, and now it's Microsoft's turn. The stakes are high for its many partners, too.

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Sometime in April, Microsoft (MSFT) is going to meet with its technology partners to talk about the rollout strategy for its new Windows 8 operating system. Details are TBA, but one thing is a pretty safe bet: The product had better be on the store shelves in October, the drop-dead date for the 2012 holiday shopping season. A lot of companies, Microsoft not least among them, are counting on it.

Windows 8 is a radically redesigned operating system that is intended to be dual-purpose, working equally well on portable touchscreen devices and on workhorse desktop PCS that use a keyboard and mouse.

The business strategy is dual-purpose as well: Microsoft and its allies are hoping that tablets running Windows 8 will be the serious challenge to the Apple (AAPL) iPad that tablets running on Google's (GOOG) Android have failed to be. And Dell (DELL), for one, is hoping it also appeals to its installed base of business buyers, spurring them to upgrade the desktops in their workplaces at last. A crucial factor is the packaging of the devices with Microsoft Office 15, which also is designed for touch screen or keyboard use.

In addition to Dell, Lenovo, HP (HPQ), Nokia (NOK) and ASUS all are expected to deliver devices using Windows 8 by late 2012, according to various sources. Most will use Intel (INTC) chips, although a few models will run on ARM (ARMH) chips.

The test version of Microsoft Windows 8 has been in the hands of programmers and tech enthusiasts for some weeks now, and the reviews are pouring in. If the dual interface sounds a little schizophrenic, so are the reviews. In a nutshell, users are practically gushing praise for the touchscreen interface, but find it awkward to switch between new and "classic" Windows modes.

(The consumer preview is available for download on the Microsoft site.)

After the holidays, the next big round is due in 2013, with the rollout of Windows 8 "ultrabook" devices. That's Intel's name for its new generation of chips, designed to give ultra-thin portable computers the power of desktops.

The Gartner Group expects such devices to help drive a resurgence of PC sales, which it estimates could grow by 8.7% in 2013.

Not quite like the good old days, but we'll take it.

Web Weekly in Brief:

Not-Good News for the News Biz
Now that most American consumers are toting mobile devices, they are checking the news more frequently, and even reading it in greater depth, than in the past, according to a new survey. But the publishers aren't getting the advertising dollars for all of those eyeballs. Just five technology companies are taking the lion's share of the revenue for linking to news stories.

The new study from Pew Research Center says that 68% of all online advertising revenue is going to Google, Yahoo (YHOO), Facebook, AOL (AOL) and Microsoft.

The study suggests that the tech companies may have to start subsidizing the news in order to differentiate their own sites, and to ensure that "content" for them to link to continues to exist.

Partnerships of various kinds already exist. One of YouTube's new channels is provided by the Reuters news service. ABC News (DIS) is providing video to Yahoo, and Facebook has agreements with several major newspapers.

Overall, the study concludes that the news industry is "not much closer to a new revenue model than a year earlier."

Amazon Buys an Army of Robots
Amazon (AMZN) has agreed to pay $775 million cash for Kiva Systems, a manufacturer of robots that move merchandise around warehouses. The purchase is being called "an infrastructure play," meaning Amazon needs a lot of robots to move stuff more efficiently around its regional merchandise warehouses.

The deal is Amazon's biggest acquisition since 2009, when it purchased shoe retailer Zappos.com for $1.2 billion.

UK Watchdog Group Raps Groupon
Groupon (GRPN) has agreed to change its marketing practices in the UK to ensure that it is offering "honest and accurate" deals, after a watchdog group found it guilty of violating consumer protection rules.

The Office of Fair Trading investigated after receiving consumer complaints that they could not find some of the deals offered in Groupon ads. Groupon agreed to change its advertising to include "an honest and realistic assessment" of a merchant's ability to deliver promised deals such as an "all-you-can-eat" meal in London for 3 pounds.

A Groupon executive in London promised cooperation, and acknowledged that the company's procedures have not always kept up with its rapid growth.
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