Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Microsoft Scratch the Surface

What a week.  Launches from Apple for the much hyped iPad mini, Amazon with a Fire in its belly and Google next to Nexus with excitement.

And then there's the Microsoft Surface tablet.  It was described by Microsoft President Steven Sinofsky as the best tablet he's ever used, the best laptop he's ever used.  To be fair, given his share exposure to Microsoft he's hardly the least biased person to comment and anyway, what's he been doing using other tablets?  He also pointed out that this was a monumental launch for Microsoft, up there with the top three which included, apparently, Windows 95 and two others.  I was driving and I didn't want to hear him claim Windows ME as being up there too, in case the shock caused me to crash, so I missed the other two.  To his credit, Windows 95 was a game changer in its day.  ME was probably the worst days' work MS ever did - I assume they only spent a day on it!  I spent two years regretting it.

So, is the Surface going to change the game?  Well, it does have a number of strong selling points, most notably being that it features a compatible version of MS Office.  You can read Office documents on your iPad and Nexus tablets, but creating a Word document from scratch is a bit of a problem.  With a bit of luck MS will have also decided on how to get documents to print from the Surface as well - I don't know if they have but I've sure struggled for hours with the iPad.  And before you email links to the many Apps that claim to make it a print friendly device please include some testimony about your own personal experience as I feel I've bankrolled a whole industry and still have to email documents to my PC to print them off.

 The critical point about the Surface is probably the price - MS are coming in way late and are up against a lot of stiff competition.  According to the UK Microsoft Store the basic Tablet retails for just under £400, and when I say just under don't expect any folding change.  This does give you a 32GB tablet which, in most real worlds is a great starting point.  But we're talking Microsoft here and they do have the reputation of sucking all the system resources up in a blink of an eye.  I'll wait until someone has had a chance to really test it in the real world before I decide if 32 GB is usable or not.

If you want the much vaunted clip on keyboard then expect to fork out an extra £80.  To put that into context, you can get Bluetooth keyboards for the iPad for a quarter of that price - suer they're no brand products but I've used one and they seem pretty good to me.  If you buy your Surface without the keyboard (or touch cover as they insist of calling it) then the purchase price is £100 for the tacky white model or £110 for the sexier black variety.  So, if you are buying a Surface, buy the keyboard with it, I guess.

Looking at the spec sheet it does include some useful standard items, such as Bluetooth to drive mice etc.  Front and rear facing cameras are there to let you Skype (or video-conference if you're trying to get the boss to authorise one of these) and of course to take photos.  Apparently the rear camera is angled so that it points straight when the device is set on the built in stand - I'm not sure how that affects hand held photography.  Perhaps photos of feet will be a giveaway trait.  Or the ceiling, I'm trying to get my head around this one.

Will it succeed?  Don't know, but I reckon it's going to be an uphill struggle given the lead Apple and Google have.  The business machine angle is Microsoft's best chance, and only time will tell if that has worked.  I don't think they will get many bites at this - er - apple before they lose the race.  We need a tablet that uses Office documents without hoop jumping, that interfaces with our work intranets effortlessly and runs our legacy business applications.  If the Surface does this then it may, just, be a success.


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