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 Sunday, November 25, 2012
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There’ve been a variety of articles and blog posts about the Microsoft Surface, with people expressing pleasure or disappointment as they’ve played with the device.

I thought I’d share my experience with the Surface RT, having now used it for a few weeks.

First though, it is important to understand that I’ve been running Windows 8 full time for months on my laptop and on my Intel-based tablet. When I started running Win8 I consciously chose not to run any of those apps to make Win8 act more like Win7. I never tried to make WinXP look like Win98, or Win7 look like WinXP, so why would I try to make Win8 look like an obsolete OS? Embrace the new, that’s my view!

Also, it is important to understand that I had an iPad at the beginning. That was comparable to the Surface, in that there were basically no iPad apps – just the ability to run iPhone apps on the iPad, which was a really lame experience. So my iPad experience was that the device was reasonable for web browsing and limited entertainment, but had no practical value at all – because it had no Office, or Lync, or other useful apps. I fully appreciate that now, years later, the iPad does have useful apps and can be useful for something other than entertainment and games. But it is important (I think) to appreciate that my iPad experience is directly analogous to my Surface experience – I used both at the start of their existence. (as an aside, I gave my iPad to my wife, because I saw no reason to lug around another entertainment device as I travel)

Given that background, I’ll start by saying that I use my Surface RT every day. A lot. And I like it. I do also find it frustrating at times.

I find it useful for web browsing, entertainment, and productivity.

From an entertainment perspective, it has a bunch of games, it has Netflix and Hulu and Xbox music/video. And it browses the web, which is also entertainment. The only thing I’m missing is Amazon streaming video, which is Amazon’s loss in terms of competing with Netflix/Hulu, so they better get a WinRT app out ASAP or they’ll probably lose me as a Prime customer. Not a customer totally though, because I’m a Kindle addict and occasionally use the Kindle app on the Surface. I still prefer my Kindle Touch though, because eInk is way superior to the shiny-screened Surface or iPad.

From a productive web browsing perspective I find IE10 to be just fine. I am able to use all the sites I need for work, including msdn.com, SharePoint, yammer, skydrive, Google drive, etc. The browsing experience is generally fast enough to be pleasant, with the exception of yammer’s text editing where they run really intensive js scripts for every keystroke. I haven’t tried their site on the iPad, but I suspect it is laggy there too due to this intense use of scripting.

In terms of pure productivity, the Surface is pretty good. I use Word and Excel pretty much daily, reading and editing documents from SkyDrive and collaborating with colleagues on projects. Lync and Skype both work well for telecom (which is important because Magenic’s entire “phone system” is Lync). I’ve used PowerPoint a little, but generally find editing presentations to be easier when using a full-size keyboard/mouse and my big monitors on my main computer. Using Word and Excel on the Surface (with its keyboard) is perfectly fine though, and I use those apps a lot.

I also use OneNote a lot. Much of my life exists in Outlook and OneNote. As a result the Surface provides me with access to much of my life through OneNote. I use the WinRT app, and I’m not sure I’ve even run the OneNote app from Office on my Surface.

The apps I have running on every one of my Win8 devices include:

  • Office
  • OneNote for WinRT
  • Tweetro
  • Skype
  • Lync
  • Feed Reader
  • Remote desktop
  • News/Weather/Stocks
  • Xbox Music/Video
  • Netflix
  • Hulu
  • Youtube player
  • Khan Academy
  • Calc
  • File Manager
  • TED Talks HD
  • All My Storage (at least until there’s a real DropBox app)
  • Bing

What is missing, and this is a big hole for me, is Outlook. The email client in Win8 is pretty lame. Perhaps adequate for casual email use, but not remotely adequate for productivity users. It has poor calendar integration, no Lync integration, no flagging of emails. It just isn’t even close to Outlook. Similarly the Calendar app on Win8 is lame. Well, it is worse than lame – it is really hard to read or use. Again, it also has no Lync integration and is largely useless for ‘real work’. Although I do use both the email and calendar apps, the experience is frustrating at best.

Similarly, the WinRT Lync app doesn’t compare to the real Lync client on an Intel machine. It is a limited subset of functionality. Fine for making and receiving calls, but extremely poor for collaboration scenarios where you need to share your screen.

I do wish that the SkyDrive app supported interaction with shared folders. When I’m collaborating with people on projects we often use shared folders in SkyDrive, but the SkyDrive app for WinRT doesn’t understand that concept, forcing me to drop into the browser to access those documents.

Finally, there is a general lack of apps in the Microsoft Store. This is directly comparable to my iPad experience (remember, at the start of the iPad’s existence) – with the notable exception that Surface comes with Office, so the single biggest set of apps I need are available right now on the Surface, unlike with the iPad (even today there’s no actual Office there, nor the amazingly smooth integration with SkyDrive).

For me, the big missing apps in WinRT include:

  • Outlook
  • Full featured Lync
  • DropBox
  • Yammer
  • TripIt
  • Amazon streaming video
  • Quicken

In short, at this comparable point in time with the iPad I gave the device away because it was just more weight to carry for little value. But I find my Surface RT continually valuable and have no plan to stop using it. The fact that it has Office and that it smoothly integrates into the SkyDrive ecosystem along with my desktop, laptop, and phone (WP8) makes it incredibly useful. I move seamlessly between my various devices, able to view and edit my documents regardless of where I am or what size screen I’m using.

So yes, I really like my Surface RT. There’s some frustration, but not nearly as much as when I was a month into using the iPad.

I have high hopes for Windows 8, WinRT, and Surface (and similar devices).

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