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11/26/2012
12:18 PM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
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Microsoft Surface: My First Month

During the first week, I wanted to throw Microsoft's Surface tablet out the window. Now, my opinion has changed.

8 Cool Windows 8 Tablets For Home And Office
8 Cool Windows 8 Tablets For Home And Office
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
When my pre-ordered Surface tablet arrived, as promised, on October 26th, my editor suggested I journal my first week with the new device.

Great idea. Unfortunately for her, it was me she chose to run with it.

I told myself that if she liked the idea of one week with Microsoft's new tablet, then she'd love a column about my first two weeks with Surface. Right?

Then I saw Eric Zeman's Apple iPad Mini: One Week In post. Ah, the "one week in" thing was supposed to be a theme. Oops.

So now I've spent a month on the Surface. My editor may not be too thrilled that I deviated from the "one week in" concept -- but Microsoft should be. Because during the first week, I wanted to throw the tablet out the window. And now I kind of like it.

[ Is Microsoft taking a page from Apple's book? And if so, will the strategy work? See The Apple-ization Of Microsoft. ]

Why the huge swing in perception? Two reasons: The machine is getting more capable by the day. And I've become more tolerant of what it can't do.

While I slept, Microsoft has been busy fixing things on my Surface. The company's been repairing bugs in the Windows RT OS, improving the built-in apps and adding to the store some of the apps that I couldn't believe weren't there to begin with -- like Evernote, the this-and-that clipper/organizer, and Pulse, the news reader.

The app store is still kind of bare, though. And I'm not talking about the raw number of apps. I don't care if there are 5,000 apps or 500,000. I only need one version of Solitaire.

There are a lot of go-to apps that still aren't there. Microsoft's SkyDrive was the only cloud storage service available on day one, though DropBox was added shortly after. Others, like Google Drive and Carbonite, still aren't available. There's still no dedicated YouTube app. Social media staples like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are absent, though they're covered by a built-in app called "People," which blends feeds from all the networks to compile sort of a friend-by-friend dossier. It's an interesting concept -- and it works, from a contact management point of view. But when you want to browse what's happening on your Facebook network, a dedicated app would be less cumbersome.

The 16:9 display is great for watching video. I've been frustrated, though, with spotty support for video file formats. I've had the best luck, ironically, with the .mp4 file format favored by Apple -- and the most trouble with .wmv files. (Yes, the 'w' in .wmv does, in fact, stand for Windows.) The built-in player did not recognize a pile of .wmv files, all of which I was able to view on Android and Windows devices around the house. I tried downloading a few third-party video players from the store, but with the same result.

The tablet itself is a sturdy, handsome piece of hardware. Mine came with the optional touch cover, which features a lean Windows PC keyboard and touchpad. I'm a touch typist, and a fast one at that. I've found that the keys don't have enough definition to keep my fingers from roaming out of position. But I've watched and talked to other touch-typists who had no trouble adapting to the keyboard. So maybe it's just me.

The cover pairs well with the tablet, folding neatly over the display. Unfold it, flip out the kickstand on the rear of the tablet, and you can use it like a clamshell-style laptop. It quickly became the most natural way to interact with the wide-screen tablet. And that irked me. I paid for a tablet, dammit, and it wants me to use it like a PC. Sometimes I yank off the cover just to force myself to use the Surface like a tablet.

Really, it's the device's quirky half-tablet, half-PC persona that, after a full month, keeps me from fully embracing the Surface. The built-in Office apps are a great asset. (I've run into a few issues while transferring heavily formatted files between my PC and the Surface. But the incompatibilities seem to be of the Office upgrade variety rather than due to any Windows RT or Surface failure.)

When you tap on the tile for an Office app, you get whisked over to the desktop, and the sudden scene change is unsettling. It's a very different sensation than the feeling you get when you switch UI's on a Windows 8 PC, where most of your time is spent on the desktop.

When the desktop shows up on the Surface, it seems out of place. The elements are far too small for a smooth touch experience. Right-clicking without the touchpad on the cover is hit and miss. Literally.

The presence of the desktop also sets expectations higher than Windows RT is prepared to deliver. If it looks like a PC, shouldn't it act like one too? It's why I got so annoyed when the system let me download a driver for my HP OfficeJet, only to tell me that it was incompatible when I tried to install it. I don't have that same set of demands from Android devices, because they present themselves as the companion devices that they are.

With the benefit of a month, I've been able to re-set those expectations. There is a lot to like about this tablet, and it's going to keep getting better. I'd even be ready to embrace it as my companion device -- if only it would stop trying to be my PC.

Upgrading isn't the easy decision that Win 7 was. We take a close look at Server 2012, changes to mobility and security, and more in the new Here Comes Windows 8 issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: Why you should have the difficult conversations about the value of OS and PC upgrades before discussing Windows 8. (Free registration required.)

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GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Strategist
12/27/2012 | 2:28:51 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: My First Month
While the article is about the RT, it is interesting that no one has pointed out that the Surface Pro IS a PC. Maybe once you get to use that you will truly love the Surface?
pblanc108
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pblanc108,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/24/2012 | 5:51:10 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: My First Month
Currenlty, I use a desktop, laptop and an Ipad 4. I have upgraded our computers to windows 8 machines with touchscreen b Lenovo. So far, win 8 proves to be incredible. The combination of touchscreen, mouse and keboard is powerful, yet fun.
When traveling, I still nedd to bring my laptop and ipad. When the Microsoft Surface Pro arrives, it will be able to replace both my laptop and my iPad.
The build quality of the Surface rivals that of the iPad and Microsoft is on the right track with this device. It is powerful, smooth, intuitive and beautiful. I am waiting patiently for the Surface Pro - I just hope they make it available with cellular in addition to wi-fi.
unclejessie
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unclejessie,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/28/2012 | 9:49:30 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: My First Month
ok crossing my fingers on pulse although i did see a summary of the recent WP8 launch that the Microsoft Store would be getting 46 out of the top 50 iOS apps so maybe that at least includes Flipboard which i love too. overall i am starting to use my surface much more now similar to your experience - i have resorted to using my ipad and kindle fire for things they only do when i need/want to :) Great column, thanks!
MFeibus
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MFeibus,
User Rank: Strategist
11/27/2012 | 3:32:57 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: My First Month
Hey Jessie. Yeah, it's the HTML5 app, not the "real" app, which I still miss terribly. I started down a tangent on that - and DropBox, as well. DropBox isn't the actual app either. It's a third-party app that signs into your DropBox account. Obviously, I ended up leaving it alone.

I miss ESPN ScoreCenter the most, but I didn't mention it because, knowing my luck, it would show up on the app store the day after my column posted!
Sam_Smith
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Sam_Smith,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2012 | 11:14:05 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: My First Month
I use the People app now mostly for Facebook and Twitter, since it seem to filter out the sponsored posts, and always show most recent, vs Top posts, I don't check Linkedin daily, but when I do I hit it up via the browser, same with Facebook and Twitter when I want to tweak or configure etc.

I have tossed away my Dropbox, SugarSync & Google cloud solutions and strictly use Skydrive now, I was never a fan of using Apps as a conduit for full blown browser access to online websites, I found apps to be very limiting, the apps I have downloaded so far for the Surface are mostly ones with live tiles that I can see updated news and stock bits at a glance.
thegrendel
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thegrendel,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2012 | 10:06:49 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: My First Month
The hardware is pretty good, but the software is lacking?
No problem. Nothing an install of a custom version of
Linux or Android wouldn't fix. I'm waiting until some time
next year, when the Surface RT will be on sale at Big Lots
for $11.99. Then I'll be able to play around with it and hack it.
unclejessie
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unclejessie,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2012 | 9:36:26 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: My First Month
@Mike - I was excited when I thought I read Pulse was available in the Microsoft Store but just checked on my Surface RT and it isn't there. Were you using the HTML app on your Surface??? Pulse and Flipboard are the apps I miss the most :(
eptCameron
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eptCameron,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2012 | 7:14:15 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: My First Month
There are still so many applications and softwares going actice on Surface time by time gradually. Just waiting for private cloud service to get innitiated ASAP. Microsoft will definitely work with that sooner as it has recently done its case study on Hosted Virtual Desktops. Check out the case study here: http://www.dincloud.com/news/M...
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