Starting today, Microsoft will give resellers up to $10 for each device they sell from a list of 21 Windows 8 touch-enabled PCs and tablets, company executives said.
The new program is the latest move by Microsoft to kick up sales, which on the PC side have been downright depressing. Research firm IDC, for instance, has forecast a decline of nearly 8% for 2013, and has already hinted that the drop may be even steeper. In tablets, Microsoft has had little luck in making much of an inroad into a market dominated by operating systems built by rivals Apple and Google.
But the selective nature of the incentive program -- fewer than two dozen different devices qualify -- shows it's also a continuation of a strategy Microsoft has used since last summer's launch of the Surface line, when the company said it entered the hardware business to have a platform that really flaunted Windows 8.
Both Tami Reller, the CFO of the Windows division, and Jon Roskill, who heads the firm's global partner group, talked up the new program, dubbed "TouchWins," at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) today.
"The whole idea is to provide incentives for the commercial channel for featured devices and tablets, PCs and tablets, and through this program we will provide incentives directly to authorized distributors, as well as reseller partners, who sell featured PCs and tablets that have Windows  Pro and are touch-enabled," said Reller during the day's keynote.
Among Microsoft's U.S.-based authorized OEM distributors are big-name sellers like Ingram Micro and ASI. Resellers run the size gamut from tiny consultancies to huge outfitters such as CDW.
Later in the presentation, Roskill characterized TouchWins as "pouring gasoline on that touch fire" as he stood in front of a screen that pegged the program's per-device incentives between $5 and $10.
Twenty-one devices from nine OEMs -- Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba -- have been tagged as eligible for the cash-back incentives. Acer, for example, sported three qualifying devices: the Aspire S7 touch-based "ultrabook," which lists for $1,300; and the Iconia W5 and Iconia W7 tablets that sport screens of 10.1-in. and 11.6-in., respectively.
(Each vendor's eligible devices can be found by clicking on the company logos here.)
The low number of qualifying devices puts TouchWins in the same general category as the Surface and Microsoft's Signature class of "crapware"-free PCs. Like those lines, TouchWins pushes systems Microsoft believes parade Windows 8's capabilities. It's just one more attempt to put the OS's best possible foot forward, said analyst Carolina Milanesi of Gartner.
TouchWins could also be seen as a stop-gap move, one that takes the best Windows 8 devices available now if, as Milanesi and other analysts expect, by this fall OEMs will have moved to newer processors that deliver much longer battery life -- one of the biggest criticisms of current hardware running Windows 8 Pro.
Already-enrolled partners can jump onto the TouchWins program immediately, said Roskill, while others will be able to sign up later this summer.
This article, Microsoft kicks back $5-$10 to resellers who peddle select Windows 8 hardware, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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