A lot of the comments here strike me as eerily reminiscent of what was said by Apple critics when the iPad launched. Heck, I was skeptical myself of the iPad (expected more of an OSX type of product). We all know how that worked out.
I think the MS strategy is a lot smarter than many (here and elsewhere) are giving MS credit for.
Think of how a typical consumer (not your average loaded Apple customer readily willing to part with $1000 for a laptop) shops for a computer. They go to their local electronics store with a budget in mind. Most people today buy cheapo laptops or tiny netbooks. If they really want portability and are willing to trade functionality, they'll get an iPad. Can they do productive work on an iPad? Sure. Is it a compromise? Most definitely. Let's face it. Most of the real world uses MS Office, transfers files on USB sticks occassionally. Etc. Now what if somebody was to tell you that you could get a tablet that converts into a laptop with a much bigger screen than a netbook, has USB ports, a decent sized keyboard and comes pre-loaded with MS Office for about $600? Still interested in that cheapo, slow, bulky, $500 laptop, that tiny netbook or that $500 iPad?
Now on the Windows 8 side, here's the problem: most ultrabooks still aren't close to competing with Apple on the MacBook Air. The smart thing to do is not to compete with the Air. It's to do what Apple did: change the paradigm. The advantage of the Air is its portability (compared to traditional laptops). The disadvantage is that it's still not as portable as a tablet. What if you could get both in one platform…for less?
The two pronged OS strategy, while not optimal, is not nuts either. Apple has lead the way here. Nobody buying a $500 tablet expects to run Crysis on it. They buy it to surf the net, check Facebook, and maybe do a bit word processing. The Surface RT, pre-loaded with Office, has everything they need. Put on an app store (Windows Marketplace), and they'll buy fully compatible software from there rather than Best Buy. We know that model works. Apple proved it with the iPad.
And when they are ready to scale up, well, they'll have a more capable Windows 8 machine. Their apps might not be transferable. But their data will. So will app licences from the app store. The familiar look-and-feel from their tablet to laptop to desktop will be a big selling point.
As for availability and price. They did roughly state availability. Surface RT with the Windows RT launch and Surface Pro will come 3 months later. Not revealing price was the right thing to do. They are giving their OEM partners a chance to respond with their hardware. They'll have to price in such a way so as not to undercut their OEM partners. That's why they are being so cagey.
And all the complaints about specs. Funny that so many Macheads are starting to talk about specs. Y'all sound like Windows users. USB 2.0 vs. USB 3.0? Really? For a $500 tablet? Who the f…. cares? MS is finally learning from Apple. They are talking about the experience. They are talking about a decent keyboard, portability, etc. The only spec I'm waiting to see is battery life. I expect though, that they haven't yet nailed down the specs. And that the hardware may change by launch time.
Is this some iPad killer? Probably not. Could it slow iPad sales growth? Maybe. I could easily see the Surface RT becoming the standard home/student laptop/tablet. Very rare are the people who'd buy both an iPad and a cheap laptop for MS Office when they could have both in one device. Once you get locked in with data and apps purchases, it'll be harder to switch. You can defeat the competition by poaching their customers or by starving your competition of new customers. MS isn't going to get anybody to give up their iPad any time soon. But they just might convince some potential iPad buyers that they can have their cake and eat it too with a Windows tablet. It's worth a shot for them. We'll see if it delivers. But one thing is for sure...MS just killed netbooks, ultrabooks and probably Android tablets.
Heck, even if the Surface tablets flop in sales itself, if it convinces Microsoft's OEM partners to make products in line with this new design direction and MS gets to sell tons of Windows RT and Windows 8 licenses, it'll be a success for MS.