Apple's iPad may be an early sales success, but it's still polarising opinion between those for whom fingers are the be-all and end-all, and those who prefer the precision of stylus input. Nobody represents that split better than Steve Jobs and Bill Gates; the Apple CEO recently said that if users had to reach for a stylus then a touchscreen device was a failure, while the Microsoft chairman has described the iPad as "a nice reader" but reiterated his preference for a "mixture of voice, the pen and a real keyboard." It seems he's not alone in that; according to a recent Gates interview, he revealed that Microsoft "has a lot of different tablet projects" including prioritising content creation rather than consumption.
"Microsoft has a lot of different tablet projects that we're pursuing. We think that work with the pen that Microsoft pioneered will become a mainstream for students. It can give you a device that you can not only read, but also create documents at the same time." Bill Gates, chairman, Microsoft
Ironically, the sort of device Gates talks about is most reminiscent of Courier, Microsoft's dual-display project that the company recently confirmed it has no intention of commercially producing. However, Microsoft also said that technologies developed during the Courier project could show up "in future Microsoft offerings"; we ourselves speculated that the company might develop a custom pen-centric OS build for OEMs to use on their own tablet hardware.
That would certainly allow them to relaunch their ongoing work in tablets (which, contrary to what you might believe from reading the mainstream press, has never stopped) and take advantage of the newly focused attention on the format. Gates was also (again) asked his opinion on Apple and the iPad, to which he said "Yes, I think both in general and in the specific, Apple's done a great job."