Lumbering Microsoft missing the tablet train

When Microsoft CEO and King of the Nerds Bill Gates pronounced to the world way back in 2001 that the future was tablet-shaped, it seemed that no-one was really listening.

Tablet PCs never really gained any mainstream traction, despite Microsoft's efforts, and it wasn't until April this year, when Apple unleashed its 'magical' iPad on an unwitting world, that anyone knew they wanted a proddable PC.

The Cupertino company has now exceeded all expectations - including its own judging by the disparity between supply and demand - by selling two million of the wallet-worryingly expensive gadgets within a couple of months.

Shortly after Steve Jobs strode onto the stage to pronounce the second coming of the portable PC, every box builder on the planet announced that they too had a tablet device of some sort in development, though few had anything tangible to show to the public beyond iPad-aping 3D renders or hastily-cobbled-up prototypes.

Recently, some of these wannabe iPads have started to come to fruition, but it is becoming clear that Microsoft, and its Windows 7 operating system, are not being invited to the party.

Both Dell and Hewlett Packard have turned to Google's Android operating system in an effort to bring tablet devices to market, no doubt impatient at Microsoft for its seeming inability to offer a version of its notoriously weighty Windows 7 operating system slim enough to squeeze into devices for which battery life is everything.

It's true that Microsoft has nailed together a tablet version of Windows XP, but who in their right mind really wants to run a decade-old operating system on a shiny new device?

Microsoft is said to be working on a tablet-centric version of its Windows 7 Embedded OS, but current estimates say it won't be ready for public consumption before the final quarter of this year at the very earliest.

In the meantime, Apple and Android will continue to court early adopters but Microsoft may well find itself bringing too little to the party, and arriving far too late.