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In the absence of actual sales figures from Microsoft for its new Surface RT tablet, a bunch of stories are making the rounds this morning based on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s comment to a French newspaper that the new tablet is “starting modestly.”

The problem is that Ballmer wasn’t referring to sales, but to the company’s approach in starting with limited initial distribution of Surface RT in the company’s online store and its U.S. retail stores. This isn’t a surprise, so it’s a stretch to call it an admission that Surface isn’t an instant hit.

Ballmer actually says that the reception to the device has been “fantastic” and notes that “soon, it will be available in more countries and in more stores.”

For better or worse, we probably won’t know the actual numbers until early next year, when Microsoft reports its results and the quarterly PC and tablet sales numbers come out from the major research firms.

Ballmer points to the release early next year of Surface for Windows 8 Pro as an upcoming milestone. That device will run legacy Windows applications but cost more (pricing hasn’t yet been announced) and also weigh 2 pounds, compared with the 1.5 pound Surface RT.

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