Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft Looks To Be On the Right Track With Surface

Brien lays out why he is optimistic about Microsoft's Windows 8 tablet, and why you may be ditching the iPad for the Surface.

It seems really strange, but lately I have had a lot of friends and family asking me what I think of the new Microsoft Surface tablets. The reason why it seems so strange is because most of the people who have asked me about it are devoted iPad users. Even so, there seems to be enough interest in the topic that I thought that I might share a few random thoughts.

Let me say up front that I have not yet had the opportunity to see or interact with a Microsoft Surface tablet in person. Even so, I do have an Acer tablet that was designed for Windows 7, but that I am currently running Windows 8 on. I have been using this tablet for about eight or nine months now, so I do have some insight into the Microsoft Surface experience.

With that said, I have to say that the number one thing that Microsoft did right on Surface tablets was to integrate a kick stand and to build a keyboard into the cover. My Acer tablet does have a keyboard docking station, but the keyboard doesn't fit into the cover. If I am traveling with my tablet I have to either leave the keyboard at home or leave my case at home. The two accessories just don't work with one another.

Microsoft's solution not only makes it easy to take your keyboard on the go, but also seems to make it practical to use the keyboard. One of the big problems that I have with my Windows 8 tablet is that the tablet itself weighs more than the keyboard. That means that when I plug the tablet into the keyboard docking station the unit becomes top heavy and can easily tip over. Microsoft Surface's integrated kickstand should keep that from being a problem.

I'm sure that some are wondering why you even need a keyboard. After all, the iPad doesn't have a keyboard and that seems to work out OK. Likewise, my Windows Phone 7 device (which uses an early version of the Windows 8 Metro interface) does have a keyboard, but I almost never use it. In the case of a Surface tablet however, a keyboard really can be a necessity.

Microsoft is going to produce two different versions of Surface. The ARM version will run Windows RT and the X64 version will run Windows 8 Professional. Using the Windows RT version of Microsoft Surface probably won't be a big deal because it can't run legacy Windows applications (except for an integrated version of Microsoft Office). The devices are designed to run Metro style apps, and since Metro apps are specifically designed for touch screens using those apps without a keyboard shouldn't be a big deal.

Surface devices that run Windows 8 Professional are another story. Those devices will run Metro apps, but they will also run legacy Windows applications. Take it from someone who has a Windows 8 tablet, some of the legacy applications really don't work very well with a touch screen. A lot of times on screen options are simply too small and placed too close together. Your finger is not as accurate as a mouse and it can sometimes be difficult to make the correct selection. That's why I am so excited about the integrated keyboard. Having a keyboard is great because I am a writer and need a keyboard, but more importantly the keyboard will include a pointing device, which will make it practical to run legacy applications on Surface tablets.

The only real issue that I have with Surface tablets at this point is their lack of storage. The ARM version will include either 32 GB or 64 GB of storage – which is comparable to the iPad. The Windows 8 Professional version will include 128 GB of storage. I will be the first to admit that this is a lot of storage for a tablet, but it isn't enough to make me give up my laptop. I pretty much live on the road and depend heavily on my laptop. I have about 1.5 TB of applications, media files, and virtual machines stored on my laptop's hard drive. There is simply no way that I could work as efficiently from a device that has a mere 128 GB of storage.

Even so, I have no doubts that I will be purchasing a 128 GB model when it becomes available. Even if the Surface tablet isn't a suitable replacement for my laptop, it will no doubt work for short trips. Besides, both versions of the Surface tablet will include USB ports, so I could conceivably bring along an external hard drive for extra storage. In any case, I am excited to see Microsoft creating what seems to be a very well thought out device.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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