Microsoft lets companies buy Surface tablets in bulk

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As often as Microsoft pitches the Surface and Surface Pro as tablets for getting work done, corporate customers haven’t had an easy way to order the devices by the bushel. We know that the process is now considerably smoother for eager large-scale adopters thanks to a ZDNet peek at a Commercial Order page.

“Commercial customers” can spring for large quantities of either slate model, along with an Extended Hardware Service Plan that bumps support to three years for North American buyers.

Microsoft isn’t saying just who’s eligible, although the order system is more likely to center on firms that are already comfortable buying all things Windows in volume. You’ll know how far it reaches if there’s a Surface at every cubicle on Monday morning.

Microsoft is singing the right tune with some wrong notes

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In an episode of Elementary, a TV reinvention of Sherlock Holmes, there is an audacious product placement for the Microsoft Surface tablet. Holmes, a techno-adept detective working in New York, whips out a Surface to do some quick research. He snaps on the keyboard with the same hearty click made famous in Microsoft commercials. Then the kickstand! The patented three-step maneuver is so distinctly set apart within the scene, there might as well be a blinking “Advertisement” notice across the sequence. (Holmes follows up by searching on Bing, turning the product placement into an ecosystem placement.)

I don’t know whether seeing a fictional genius using Surface helps sales, but if so, it’s not helping enough. The Surface slate is on the skids in retail, as are Windows 8 computers. It is perhaps not surprising that Microsoft’s retail users are slow to migrate from the familiar (PCs running Windows 7 and XP) to the unfamiliar (PCs running the radically different Metro interface, and a new product category in Surface). But swampy sell-through is definitely surprising financial analysts, some of whom are cutting Microsoft’s revenue forecasts.

Microsoft shows Surface prototypes, teases the tablets that might have been

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We already know a lot about the Surface tablet line’s birthing process. However, Microsoft has only really been comfortable with showing the finished product — until today. The company’s Panos Panay just gave The Verge a peek at some of the earliest prototypes and design decisions, some of which break from the officially rehearsed story. Microsoft had considered multiple PC form factors before settling on Surface, Panay says, and the tablets didn’t always have that sharp-angled design: the firm tried curved backs before deciding that the flat surfaces were more reassuring in users’ hands.

The concept of a keyboard cover appeared relatively soon into the design process, however, and it was mostly a matter of evolution as the all-important peripheral slimmed down and fleshed out. As for the future? While we weren’t expecting to hear very differently, Panay confirms that Microsoft is working on multiple future generations of Surface products. At least for now, this isn’t a one-off experiment.