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Since its launch on Oct. 26, Surface RT has been available only through Microsoft's online store or at company-owned brick-and-mortar locations. On Tuesday, Microsoft said Surface RT would hit major retail outlets in mid-December. Surface Pro, which runs Windows 8 Professional, is slated to ship in January.
"Our plan has been to expand the retail presence for Surface after the first of the year. Based on interest from retailers we are giving them the option to carry Surface with Windows RT even earlier," said Steve Scheuler, corporate VP for Microsoft Retail Sales and Marketing, in a statement.
Microsoft did not specify which retailers would carry Surface. Asked by InformationWeek if Best Buy would be carrying Surface, a sales associate at the chain's location at Union Square in Manhattan said the store did not have Surface in stock but would have the tablets "probably later."
In another effort to boost sales of Surface and other Windows 8-related products, Microsoft said it will convert a number of so-called pop-up stores it opened around the country for the holidays into permanent locations.
"Based on the success of the Microsoft holiday stores, the company will extend all of these locations into the New Year. These stores will transition into either permanent brick-and-mortar retail outlets or specialty store locations," Microsoft said in a statement.
[ Will Microsoft introduce more hardware products beyond Surface? Ballmer: Hardware Key To Microsoft's Future. ]
Microsoft has not commented publicly on Surface RT sales, but some analysts have said that they are running below the company's expectations. Analysts at Boston-based brokerage firm Detwiler Fenton last week pegged sales of Surface RT at between 500,000 and 600,000 units since the product launched. By contrast, Apple sold 3 million iPads in three days following November's launch of the iPad mini. "Lack of distribution is killing the product," Detwiler Fenton said, in a research note.
Surface RT runs a pared-down version of Windows 8 known as Windows RT. The OS, which runs on ARM-based chips from Nvidia and others, is not compatible with standard Windows applications. It supports only software pre-installed by Microsoft or apps downloaded from the company's online Windows Store.
Surface Pro runs full-blown Windows 8, and it's also compatible with legacy Windows applications and Microsoft's full-range of security and management products. Surface Pro, however, will not be available until January, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft shares were up .82%, to $27.55, in early trading Wednesday.
Upgrading isn't the easy decision that Win 7 was. We take a close look at Server 2012, changes to mobility and security, and more in the new Here Comes Windows 8 issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: Why you should have the difficult conversations about the value of OS and PC upgrades before discussing Windows 8. (Free registration required.)