No Windows for tablets until late 2012

When Steve Jobs rolled out the second coming of the iPad on Wednesday he proclaimed to the world that 2011 would be 'the year of the iPad'.

Announcing the second iteration of the genre-defining gadget before the vast majority of iPad wannabes have added the finishing touches to their first foray into 'post PC' computing - as Apple has named the tablet revolution - has given the Mac maker such a head start on the competition that it's genuinely hard to see how many of them will ever make any headway at all, let alone overtake the iPad juggernaut.

Apple has leveraged its design, interface and software expertise as well as vast library of easily-ported iOS apps and an ability to pre-buy components in frightening quantities to leave those coming to the party late foundering in its wake, even beating much of the competition on price, which is a game Apple plays seldom and only then with great reluctance.

But there is one company massively conspicuous by its absence from the tablet canon: the world's biggest maker of software, Microsoft.

The Redmond Massive initially made some encouraging noises about breaking into the tablet market, and is known to be tweaking its Windows 7 operating system for use on proddable PCs, but a report from Bloomberg suggests that Microsoft won't be ready to make a move into the tablet market until the fourth quarter of 2012.

By then Apple will almost certainly be punting the iPad 3, Android's tablet-centric Honeycomb variant will have matured and found a loyal fan-base amongst those with Apple angst, and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook will have had more than 18 months to find a foothold with be-suited business types.

Even in the traditional PC market, the ubiquity of Windows is coming under pressure from open source alternatives and the halo effect of traditionally Apple-phobic computer users tempted to the fruity side by the insidious iPhone.

Despite Microsoft's recent announcement that it would be developing Windows for ARM architecture, the software giant has traditionally ridden (or more accurately driven) the demand for hotter processors and more RAM with its bloated operating systems and software.

Watching the rumbling behemoth desperately trying to change direction to keep up with the rest of the world should be amusing if nothing else, but if Microsoft fails to keep up with tablet computing, and the whole iPad effect doesn't turn out to be this year's netbook (poor little fellas never stood a chance) the next 18 months could be very uncomfortable indeed for the folks at Redmond.