Microsoft expects to sell a "few million" Surface tablets - and has warned that it will not "leave any space uncovered" for Apple.
In a speech to the company's annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto, CEO Steve Ballmer said that the widely applauded Surface tablet was really "just a design point".
Apparently playing down the expectation that the Surface RT and Surface Pro Windows 8 machines could take on the iPad in terms of pure sales, Ballmer said that it is "excited about the work" its hardware partners are doing.
"We announced our Surface device here in the last few weeks. The amazing reaction -- and it's been an amazing reaction, frankly, we saw to the Surface announcement -- I think is really just a testimony to the great new opportunities that Windows 8 presents.
Surface happens to be one incarnation, but we have tons of others for software developers, hardware developers, systems integrators, training companies, and all of the other partners represented in the room here today."
"We need partners to have that diversity of devices. We're excited about the work our OEM partners are doing on Windows 8," he said.
Ballmer said Microsoft expects around 375 million Windows PCs to be sold in the next year.
"And all of those represent new opportunities as they move to Windows 8. Whether it's the store for developers, it's the upgrade and deployment process for other partners, it's new applications and I just think it's a phenomenal opportunity because of the strength and health and size -- not just of the Windows install base, but of the new Windows system run rates.
And this is before you now start to see Windows tablets and new form factors -- hopefully we'll take a look at here in a minute.
But in a later interview with CRN, Ballmer took a more aggressive tone against Apple, saying that he was not prepared to concede any product line or space to the Cupertino-based company.
"We have our advantages in productivity," he told CRN. "We have our advantages in terms of enterprise management, manageability... But we are not going to let any piece of this go."
Reportedly "shouting" at this point, Ballmer continued: "We are not leaving any of that to Apple by itself. Not going to happen. Not on our watch.
"We do feel empowered to innovate everywhere and bring our partners with us."