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A new report from the IDC research firm says that Microsoft’s Surface tablet, with its initially limited distribution, wasn’t able to crack the top 5 in worldwide tablet shipments in its debut quarter — registering 900,000 units, or less than 2 percent of the tablet market.

Another research firm, iSuppli, tells CNet that actual sales of the Surface were considerably less than shipments.

The news comes as Android and the iPad lift overall tablet sales to new heights, now more than half the size of the traditional PC market.

Here’s the assessment from IDC’s Ryan Reith:

“There is no question that Microsoft is in this tablet race to compete for the long haul. However, devices based upon its new Windows 8 and Windows RT operating systems failed to gain much ground during their launch quarter, and reaction to the company’s Surface with Windows RT tablet was muted at best, We believe that Microsoft and its partners need to quickly adjust to the market realities of smaller screens and lower prices. In the long run, consumers may grow to believe that high-end computing tablets with desktop operating systems are worth a higher premium than other tablets, but until then ASPs on Windows 8 and Windows RT devices need to come down to drive higher volumes.”

Microsoft initially released the Surface with Windows RT in its own retail and online stores, before expanding distribution to major retailers. That version of the tablet, starting at $499 without a Surface keyboard, uses a power-saving ARM processor but doesn’t run legacy Windows applications.

The company is preparing to launch Surface for Windows Pro, which starts at $899 for a version without a keyboard. That version uses an Intel processor and runs legacy Windows apps.

Here is IDC’s ranking of the worldwide tablet market for the quarter.

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