In the wake of HP's refusal to discuss when or if it will ship its previously-announced Windows 7 Slate, Microsoft has pulled the plug on Courier. (FusionGarage's JooJoo Tablet, despite being available, doesn't seem to represent serious competition, with total unit sales apparently in the mere double digits. The linked video may suggest why it's not selling hard: it's not Apple-quality fit-and-finish. But then, what is? Money quote: "this is not impossible to use." Ahh ... gotta love praise like that.)
One wonders whether the loser is MS-Windows (assuming the Slate will return with zero-licensing-fee WebOS), or everyone selling hardware to compete with iPad.
Presumably the tablet arena will attract competitors. However, if the market is going to involve well-performing high-quality devices, beige-box makers will have a strong incentive to ship an operating system that doesn't involve the substantial per-unit licensing fees that characterize Microsoft's business model. This might be an area in which, due to margins, Google and HP work on Linux-kernel operating systems and freeware interfaces to make hardware competitive in this market segment.
The alternative isn't attractive: it leaves most of the benefit of hardware manufacturers' efforts in Microsoft's coffers. Now that Android proves an alternative is feasible, and Apple has shown that desktop applications aren't the route to producing applications for handheld devices, why shouldn't powerhouses like Google and HP finally man up and produce a competing operating system eventually suitable for replacing desktop computers' operating systems?
The future is coming. Unless things change dramatically, I don't see Microsoft performing in the mobile space the sort of gatekeeping (and tax-collecting) role it's long played on the desktop. The war for platform superiority is on again in mobile space.
Only good can come of real competition.