Microsoft Surface is coming: Windows, but not as you know it

Today Microsoft showed full details and prices for its Surface RT tablet with an ARM processor – an Intel variant is to follow – and you can order now.

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Surface is a distinctive device. Here are the key points:

  • Surface RT runs an NVidia ARM chipset – which means not one of your existing Windows 7 or earlier apps will run. Only new Windows Store (Metro-style) apps can be installed.
  • Microsoft Office 2013 comes preinstalled. It is the Home and Student edition, no Outlook and no license for commercial use, though individuals who use it for work are unlikely to be pursued. Businesses will need to cover Office usage with a volume license.
  • This is a true tablet. There are two different styles of keyboard cover, but it is designed for touch control. How successful this is for Office is moot (and we have not yet seen the final Office 2013) but it should at least be tolerable.

I doubt you will buy Surface RT for its specs: not bad, but not special either:

  • 10.6″ 1366 x 768 display (no Retina claims here)
  • 5-point multitouch
  • 2GB RAM
  • 1.5lbs weight – pretty lightweight
  • Wifi and Bluetooth but no 3G or 4G
  • Front and rear 720p cameras
  • Two microphones, stereo speakers
  • USB 2.0 (not 3.0)
  • MicroSDXC card slot (a nice differentiator from the Apple iPad)
  • 32GB or 64GB built-in storage
  • HD video out
  • Sensors: ambient light, accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass
  • Estimated 8 hour battery life – a bit disappointing, but decent

On the plus side, this should be the most reliable Windows yet. With desktop application installs blocked and only sandboxed Windows Runtime apps allowed, there is little opportunity for badly behaved applications or OEM foistware to foul up the system.

Surface RT realises the Windows 8 vision more fully than the Intel models, which are less efficient, less secure, and odd hybrids of old and new Windows. There is still a desktop in Surface RT, but it is limited and it would not be surprising if it disappears in future versions.

This means that Surface RT is in some respects better than the x86 Surface Pro which is promised at a later date. Surface Pro is heavier (up to 2lbs total), more power hungry, does not come with Office bundled, and will not be as secure. Further, Surface Pro will have greater need of keyboard and mouse thanks to those old desktop applications that users will install. I know which one I would rather take on a plane.

The problem with Surface RT: the Windows Store currently has around 3000 apps, most of them trivial and/or poor. How viable is Surface RT right now for getting all your work done when on the road?

That is an open question, and makes this a risky purchase for most users right now.

Then again, with Office, a web browser and a remote desktop client you are covered for many needs.

As the Windows 8 app ecosystem matures, Surface RT will get correspondingly more attractive. If Microsoft has got the design right (and early reports are good) this could be the ideal device for work and play. I want one.

Related posts:

  1. Microsoft Surface has changed the Windows 8 conversation
  2. Just three Windows 8 on ARM tablets at launch? Not good for Microsoft
  3. The closest I got to Windows on ARM at Microsoft BUILD 2011
  4. OEM vendors: it’s Google, not Microsoft you need to watch
  5. Microsoft puts carriers before users in new Windows Phone update which you might not get

6 thoughts on “Microsoft Surface is coming: Windows, but not as you know it

  1. Chris Nahr

    No Office with Surface Pro? Are you sure about that? I was under the impression that Pro came bundled not only with Office but with an edition licensed for business use.

    Also, I don’t think you would actually use a mouse with Pro desktop applications since there’s an included stylus, and I certainly hope it can perform all mouse functions.

    1. Tim Post author

      @chris I expect Surface Pro will come with trial Office like other x86 Windows machines; it is not mentioned on the spec sheet I have but I guess it is subject to change.

      Personally I don’t like a stylus as a mouse substitute, it is awkward. Would rather use fingers, other than for taking notes, for which a stylus is brilliant.

      Tim

  2. Andy

    I think I also want one too but I am struggling to justify £399 or more likely £479 with the keyboard (essential to be a proper productivity tool surely?) before giving Windows RT at least a couple of months before seeing what the guinea pigs make of it. Are you pre ordering?

  3. Andrew

    It’s said in many places that it doesn’t come with Remote Desktop. Is that just the server or the client too? That would be a deal breaker for me.

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