Yesterday Steve Ballmer took a few minutes of his CES keynote to reveal several Microsoft based “slate” PCs.  These are the devices that are designed to compete with the Apple Tablet (a.k.a. iSlate until a more official name is made public).

All in all it was a pretty terrible announcement.  Ballmer came on with a prototype, had no pricing or availability to offer, had a half finished 17 second ad from HP to show and then did a demo that looked bad even by “Microsoft Demo” standards.  Worse yet he stole Apple’s rumored terminology (“Slate” PCs) making it even clearer that this was a hastily put together attempt to “one up” Apple. 

The whole thing was horribly embarrassing and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Microsoft’s stock dropped after the announcement.

But here’s the important part: Microsoft did the exact right thing with this announcement.

Not everyone can be the cool kid in class and generally when those who aren’t the cool kid succeed it’s because they accept that fact and go with what strengths they do have.  Microsoft is never, ever going to out-do Apple in the flash department.  That’s historically been the case and that’s almost certainly not going to change.

If Microsoft wants to get back to the success they had in the past they have to do two things in regards to Apple.

1.  Be Good Enough

2.  Be Cheaper

That’s how Microsoft wins, that’s how Microsoft has always won and that’s how they’ll win in the future.  As horrible as last night’s announcement was it did one important thing which is to tell consumers that Microsoft will also be in the “Slate” market. 

Steve Ballmer was basically up there saying “Look, if that Apple tablet looks too darn expensive you can do everything it can do with this Windows 7 based tablet [albeit in a much less refined package]”

So in my book yesterday was a success for Microsoft even though it didn’t look like it at the time.  Apple will always seem cooler and the Internet News and Blog sites will always spend more digital ink praising Apple.  Again, that’s always been the case.  But Microsoft always made more money and if they can get a “slate” out the door that fills the two requirements I outlined above I think they’ll continue to make more money in the future.