While we're waiting with bated breath for the rumored Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iSlate tablet computer, the rest of the computing industry wants to steal a march on Cupertino. The real winner might surprise you.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer is beating the big drum to promote a Windows 7-powered tablet made by Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ). HP is the only major hardware maker aboard the Windows 7 tablet train so far, alongside much smaller players like Archos and Pegatron.

But Ballmer might blow a gasket when he sees what else HP is up to. According to TechCrunch, an HP tablet eerily similar to Ballmer's new favorite toy is coming soon to a superstore near you -- running the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating system.

And Google has plenty of allies. Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) is working on an Android-fueled tablet, as is Motorola (NYSE:MOT). If and when that Apple tablet materializes, it had better be a stunning piece of equipment if it hopes to make any impact on the suddenly much more crowded tablet market.

The irony here is that Google will win whether or not its Android software grabs any significant market share. Microsoft historically loses money online, and Apple isn't really trying to capitalize on Web surfing crossing over into our pockets and briefcases. More traffic means more money for Google, whatever the operating system each computer is running.

This tendency to pull out the opposite of a Pyrrhic victory in nearly any situation -- even if the company loses, it still wins -- is a big reason why I own Google stock.

Which tablet would you buy, sight unseen? Are tablets worth all the hype they’ve generated at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show? Discuss in the comments below.