My Feelings About Microsoft Surface

Advice: read the title carefully, I’m talking about “feelings” and not about advanced technical points proved in a scientific and objective way Smile I still haven’t had a chance to play with a MS Surface tablet (I would love to, of course) and so my ideas just came from reading different articles on the net and MS official statements.

Remember also that the MVP motto begins with “Independent” (“Independent Experts. Real World Answers.”) and this is just my humble opinion about a product and a technology. I know that, being an MS MVP you can be called an “MS-fanboy”, I don’t care, I hope that people can appreciate my opinion, even if it doesn’t match theirs.

The “Surface” brand can be confusing for techies that knew the “original” surface concept but I think that will be a fresh new brand name for most of the people out there. But marketing department are here to confuse people… so I can understand this “recycle” of an existing name.

So Microsoft is entering the hardware arena… for me this is good news.
Microsoft developed some nice hardware in the past: the xbox, zune (even if the commercial success was quite limited) and, last but not least, the two arc mices (old and new model) that I use and appreciate.
In the past Microsoft worked with OEMs and that model lead to good and bad things. Good thing (for microsoft, at least) is market domination by windows-based PCs that only in the last years has been reduced by the return of the Mac and tablets. Google is also moving in the hardware business with its acquisition of Motorola, and Apple leveraged his control of both the hardware and software sides to develop innovative products. Microsoft can scare OEMs and make them fly away from windows (but where?) or just lead the pack, showing how devices should be designed to compete in the market and bring back some of the innovation that disappeared from recent PC products (look at the shelves of your favorite electronics store and try to distinguish a laptop between the huge mass of anonymous PCs on displays… only Macs shine out there…).
Having to compete with MS “official” hardware will force OEMs to develop better product and bring back some real competition in a market that was ruled only by prices (the lower the better even when that means low quality) and no innovative features at all (when it was the last time that a new PC surprised you?).
Moving into a new market is a big and risky move, but with Windows 8 Microsoft is playing a crucial move for its future, trying to be back in the innovation run against apple and google. MS can’t afford to fail this time.

I saw the new devices (the WinRT and Pro) and the specifications are scarce, misleading and confusing. The first impression is that the device looks like an iPad with a nice keyboard cover…
Using “HD” and “full HD” to define display resolution instead of using the real figures and reviving the “ClearType” brand (now dead on Win8 as reported here and missed by people who hate to read text on displays, like myself) without providing clear figures (couldn’t you count those damned pixels?) seems to imply that MS was caught by surprise by apple recent “retina” displays that brought very high definition screens on tablets.Also there are no specifications about the processors used (even if some sources report NVidia Tegra for the ARM tablet and i5 for the x86 one) and expected battery life (a critical point for tablets and the point that killed Windows7 x86 based tablets). Also nothing about the price, and this will be another critical point because other platform out there already provide lots of applications and have a good user base, if MS want to enter this market tablets pricing must be competitive.

There are some expansion ports (SD and USB), so no fixed storage model (even if the specs talks about 32-64GB for RT and 128-256GB for pro). I like this and don’t like the apple model where flash memory (that it’s dirt cheap used in thumdrives or SD cards) is as expensive as gold (or cocaine to have a more accurate per gram measurement) when mounted inside a tablet/phone. For big files you’ll be able to use external media and an SD card could be used to store files that don’t require super-fast SSD-like access times, I hope.

To be honest I really don’t like the marketplace model and the limitation of Windows RT APIs (no local database? from a company that based a good share of its success on VB6+Access!) and lack of desktop support on the ARM (even if the support is here and has been used to port office). It’s a step toward the consumer market (where competitors are making big money), but may impact enterprise (and embedded) users that may not appreciate Windows 8 new UI or the limitations of the new app model (if you aren’t connected you are dead Smile with tongue out). Not having compatibility with the desktop will require brand new applications and honestly made all the CPU cycles spent to convert .NET IL into real machine code in the past like a huge waste of time… as soon as a new processor architecture is supported by Windows you still have to rewrite part of your application (and MS is pushing HTML5+JS and native code more than .NET in my perception).
On the other side I believe that the development experience provided by Visual Studio is still miles (or kilometres) ahead of the competition and even the all-uppercase menu of VS2012 hasn’t changed this situation.

The new metro UI got mixed reviews. On my side I should say that is very pleasant to use on a touch screen, I like the minimalist design (even if sometimes is too minimal and hides stuff that, in my opinion, should be visible) but I should also say that using it with mouse and keyboard is like trying to pick your nose with boxing gloves…
Metro is also very interesting for embedded devices where touch screen usage is quite common and where having an application taking all the screen is the norm. For devices like kiosks, vending machines etc. this kind of UI can be a great selling point.

I don’t need a new tablet (to be honest I’m pretty happy with my wife’s iPad Smile and with my PC), but I may change my opinion after having a chance to play a little bit with those new devices and understand what’s hidden under all this mysterious and generic announcements and specifications!

posted on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 4:11 AM Print
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