For the last 37 years, Microsoft has built a tradition of developing software and licensing them to long-time PC manufacturing partners such as Dell and HP to distribute with their hardware.
But in its latest product dubbed Surface tablet, Microsoft has broken with the past; it has made both the software and hardware.
There is no doubt that the fast growing tablet market motivated the production of this new product.
For example, sales of tablets are expected to triple in the next two years, topping 180 million a year in 2013, easily outpacing growth in traditional PCs. Apple has sold 67 million iPads in two years since launch.
The new tablet line includes a consumer device aimed directly at the Apple iPad, and another designed to compete with lightweight laptops.
The thinner, lighter version running with a ARM processor will run Windows 8 RT, and a higher end, thicker, heavier model running a full version of Windows 8 Pro.
Both include a magnetic cover that snaps firmly into place and doubles as a keyboard. The thin Touch Cover comes in an assortment of bold colours and includes a full-size keyboard with slightly raised keys and a trackpad.
Although not much information is disclosed about the specifications, industry watchers are generally impressed with what is already known about the Surface tablet. In terms of comparison with the iPad, Surface is so far impressive.
It is 9 mm thick (one-tenth of a millimetre thinner than the latest iPad) and weighs 1.5 pounds. The black device has beautiful, bevelled edges; its shell is made of what Microsoft calls vapour-deposited magnesium.
It has a full-size USB ports, something quite uncommon with the current crop of tablets. The Windows RT version of Surface has USB 2.0, with USB 3.0 on the Windows 8 Professional version.
When technology critics speculate about the future of the iPad, many wonder if it could one day replace the home PC for many users.
In some ways it has already done that for users who just want a computer that can do casual web browsing, e-mail, social networking, and video streaming.
There are also some professionals using the iPad instead of a laptop at work, including programmers, journalists, and small business owners.
One can now take all the programmes and stick them on something the size of a tablet. Even the entry-level version of Surface running Windows RT offers the more familiar desktop interface (albeit with limited functionality) for people who want a basic desktop.
By creating both the software and hardware, Microsoft seems to have learnt a lesson from Apple. Apple, which makes both hardware and software for greater control over the performance of the final product, has revolutionised mobile markets with its smooth, seamless phones and tablets.
Rival Google may experiment with a similar approach after buying phone maker Motorola Mobility.
The coming of the Surface tablet, complete with Windows 8 presents even a stronger attraction for many users to abandon laptops for tablets, gradually eating into the laptop market.
The timing of the launch appears timely. The Windows Surface RT will launch around September this year and the Surface 8 Pro around December, just in time for the Christmas season shopping spree.
The coming of age of tablets is shaping up to be a choice between Apple’s vision – new apps that are mostly built from scratch for the iPad ecosystem and large user base – and Microsoft’s new apps that are based around Windows and attractive to users familiar with Windows from their daily jobs and home PCs.
There appears to be plenty of room for both models to thrive, but it will be fascinating to see if many large enterprises flock to Surface for Windows Pro for its familiarity in lieu of both iPads and new laptops.
Sam Wambugu is a monitoring and evaluation specialist. Samwambugu@gmail.com