Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said Windows-based tablet computers from nearly two dozen manufacturers will hit the market soon.
Taking the stage at the software giant's Worldwide Partner Conference event, Ballmer told the audience: "This year one of the most important things that we will do in the smart device category is really push forward with Windows 7-based slates and Windows 7 phones."
Ballmer's presentation contained a slide that showed 21 hardware manufacturers apparently working on Windows 7 tablet PCs including Asus, Dell, Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Panasonic.
"They'll come with keyboards, they'll come without keyboards, they'll be dockable, there'll be many form factors, many price points, many sizes. But they will all run Windows 7. They will run Windows 7 applications. They will run Office," said Ballmer.
Ballmer also admitted that the company had virtually missed a product cycle with Windows Mobile but went on to claim wide support for Windows Mobile 7 which is also due to launch some time in Q4 2010.
Windows 7 has had touch screen support since launch so there don't appear to have been any impediments to PC-based slates excepting market acceptance and technical limitations of placing an x86-based PC into a compact tablet.
However the renewed profile of tablet PCs due to the Apple iPad and hardware advances in enabling low-power x86-based tablets such as the latest ultra low voltage Atom CPUs from Intel are thought to have played a roll in the new focus on the Windows 7-based tablet.
It remains to be seen if the consumer market will warm to to PC-based slate products or if the finger-friendly mobile OS derived devices such as the iPad and upcoming Android-based devices will prove more attractive.
Likely there's some cross over with some fraction of the current netbook market potentially moving towards a slate-style form factor.