If your image of Microsoft is a sweaty Steve Ballmer screaming “developers, developers, developers” at an auditorium -- or the boring company that makes boring products like Excel, or Exchange Server -- prepare to change that image.
Microsoft just might be evolving into a killer consumer electronics company.
In the wake of two serial Apple announcements, the rumor mill has become an alien landscape. Instead of the usual chatter about amazing new Apple gadgets, everyone is now talking about even more amazing Microsoft hardware.
Yes, they're rumors. But most of them originate with credible sources or plausible guesstimates.
And these rumors are bolstered by known hot hardware products known to be coming soon.
Here's what could, should and probably will be coming soon from Microsoft.
Microsoft Xbox Surface Tablet
The most immanent rumor concerns itself with a gaming tablet, rumored to be branded the Xbox Surface tablet.
The rumor originates from an allegedly leaked document that outlines the specifications for the device. According those documents, the tablet will have a 7-inch, 1280 x 720 screen, and 288MB of RAM.
The speculation, which to me sounds credible, is that the Xbox Surface tablet would function in outline like Nintendo's new Wii U system.
Specifically, when the Xbox is running, the tablet functions like a remote control or provides additional information to augment what's onscreen (including during movies). But when the Xbox is off, the tablet can take what was on the screen "to go," and become both a media and a gaming tablet for wandering around the house or the neighborhood.
If the rumor is true, it's likely that the tablet would be released with a future version of the Xbox.
Microsoft Xbox 720
Microsoft's upcoming gaming console, code-named "Durango," may or may not be branded the Xbox 720 or the Xbox Infinity.
The rumor around the next Xbox is that it will hit in time for next year's holiday season -- possibly October.
If that's the case, then it makes sense for Microsoft to announce it very soon. They've got to widen the circle of trust for game developers, or they'll ship a gaming system without enough new games next year -- although a rumored spec sheet suggests that the new console will support old Xbox 360 games.
Other rumors suggest incredible capabilities. For example, Microsoft has a patent for a projection system that projects gaming environment on the walls of your living room during game play.
So as you're creeping through the jungle in some future version of Call of Duty, the walls, floor and ceiling and walls become part of the jungle to serve as "peripheral vision," even as the game play happens on screen -- a first step toward a Star Trek like “Holodeck” immersive virtual reality system.
There have also been rumors that the next version of Kinect for Xbox will be so capable that it will be able to read lips.
Microsoft Surface Phone
The Wall Street Journal reported recently that Microsoft is working with "Asian suppliers" on a smartphone design that could be branded as a Surface phone.
It's unclear what Microsoft could bring to a crowded market dominated by the Apple iPhone and Google Android-based phones.
One possibility is explicit and possibly proprietary support for Xbox -- a rumored phone that works like a rumored tablet in its ability to function as a Wii-like remote control and a portable gaming console.