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Preview: The Microsoft Surface Tablet

IBM once built the world's best portable keyboard. Its official name was "TrackWrite," but everybody called it "the butterfly" because of the way it spread its wings when you opened the computer. John Karidis designed it for the ThinkPad 701 back in 1995, and watch this baby in action.

It's so well engineered, that there are still butterflies in perfect working condition, even though the last one was produced in 1996. That's right: although the 701 was IBM's best-selling laptop, the butterfly keyboard was abandoned after only one year. TrackWrite was a wonderful indulgence for a laptop with a 10-inch screen, but the very next year after it was introduced, 12-inch screens became the new norm -- and bigger screens allowed for a full-sized keyboard without any fancy engineering.

Just like a real butterfly, the TrackWrite was beautiful but short-lived.

That's the first thing I thought of when I watched Microsoft introduce its new Surface tablet computers last night: A gorgeous keyboard without a market. Microsoft has designed what is undoubtedly the best portable keyboard ever… for a touch tablet. In fact, if you go to Microsoft's promo page, this is the very first image you're presented with.

That's how MS wants to introduce you to their new tablet -- a tiny little screen with a great big keyboard. Scroll down the page a bit, and Microsoft reminds you that "some activities call for a keyboard." The description continues:

Surface comes with an integrated Kickstand and a revolutionary, 3mm thin, pressure sensitive cover that doubles as a fully functioning keyboard and trackpad. Your Touch Cover connects to your Surface with a single magnetic click. Now you can chat with friends and respond to emails comfortably.

It's really a very nifty piece of kit, and it's included for free. Apple charges you a less-than-nifty $69 for their wireless keyboard, and it doesn't attach to anything at all, not even with magnets. But you have to wonder if Apple doesn't still have the right approach.