We just had a chat with none other than Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer, and as you would expect, he's feeling excited about the company's new product. During the conversation, Ballmer let us know that hardware partners were indeed made aware of this announcement in advance of the event today. Ballmer wouldn't say whether or not he thinks they'll be chafing at the thought of Microsoft in their space, though he did mention that he thought they might "opine."

When pressed on what he thought Microsoft could bring to the table that other hardware-makers couldn't, Ballmer demurred, but he did say part of the Surface's purpose was to "prime the pump" for the coming release of Windows 8. Perhaps he's hoping to light a fire under partners who are feeling pressure to jump to other platforms. In any case, he was sure to keep the door wide open, noting that Surface is "an important companion to the whole Windows 8 story. It's an important piece; it's not the only piece."

Ballmer also wouldn't give up any details on pricing or release dates. When we pushed him on whether or not prices would dip below $500, he reiterated that the company will be competitive.

Something tells us that what we saw today is only a little piece of Microsoft's strategy for the next few years — and that strategy seems like it's going to involve a much more integrated approach than the company has ever taken. That says one thing for sure: Microsoft is learning from the competition.