I’m a technophile, and I particularly love tablets. I bought the iPad within weeks of its initial release. I have a really nice Android tablet – Google’s Nexus 10. And now I have a Microsoft Surface Pro with Windows 8. I’ve used all three extensively. What do I think of the Surface Pro? It’s not perfect, but it’s very good.
Windows 8 is the only tablet OS that solidly implements a form of “multitasking”. [[Correction: As discussed in the comments below, I don’t really mean “multitasking” here. All the tablet OSs can run tasks in the background. I mean the number of programs that can be displayed and used at once.]] It’s a little primitive – it’s just two apps (unless you use the “workshop” app, and then you can cram a few more in there), and you’re limited to 1/3 and 2/3 of the screen, but it’s way ahead of the competition. Android 4 has the ability to pop up windows and there are some developers writing to that. Also, Samsung has a customization of Android that lets you put certain special Samsung apps on the screen at the same time. But Microsoft’s implementation works with any “modern” tablet app – much more general.
Plus there is the blessed pressure sensitivity of the stylus. Android also has this potential and Samsung has implemented it on one of their tablets as a customization, but it’s not a standard part of the OS yet. You can’t write with a pen for real on any other tablet – it’s just not realistic. I’ve tried. Nor can you do serious art work on a tablet without the exactitude of a digital stylus and pressure sensitivity.
And then, of course, there is the fact that the Surface Pro is an actual, full-powered work computer that connects to your printers and can run all your legacy software. The other tablets have all kinds of kludgy workarounds to enable you to print, and certainly can’t run your legacy Windows software – those programs that are critical for your work.
The Surface Pro is powerful, and the new UI interface is very nice. I suspect a lot of the complaints about it arise for two reasons: (1) Microsoft could not have rolled it out more badly if they tried, between putting Admin apps on the Start screen and taking away the Start button, and (2) The UI is completely new – there is a learning curve to the completely innovative gestures, keystrokes, new menu placements, and basics for how to do stuff. People will be lost at first, and Microsoft did nothing to make this transition easier.
Don’t give up too soon…
With study, I find the touch portion of Windows 8 quite usable – perhaps better than any other tablet. But it’s so unlike anything else that it does require study. You can’t guess at the new gestures and methods. You don’t benefit from transfer of learning, as with other tablet OSs. Perhaps this was a mistake on Microsoft’s part, but perhaps not – it’s very intruitive and easy to use, once you get used to it.
The only serious mistake Microsoft made was in trying to pretend that Windows 8 is one operating system. It’s really two operating systems rolled into one, almost like a dual boot system, but much more seamless. The old desktop OS has to stay for now because of the need for backward compatibility, but that’s no reason to pretend it’s part of the “real” Windows 8.
I think that the Start page should initially contain only modern apps, or that the desktop apps should be very clearly marked as such – perhaps by a special background color for the tiles. The idea that the Start page should substitute for the Start menu in the old desktop was very misguided – mongo, giant, error. Both are needed. As more apps migrate to a modern interface, Microsoft will probably be able to drop the old desktop eventually, but until then, they should present it as the legacy beast it is.
It was also a big mistake to clutter up the Start page with a huge number of desktop system and administrative apps. The touch interface is supposed to be easy and accessible. People will launch these programs just to see what they are and recoil in horror. Really dumb call. Who’s in charge over there??
My take after playing with the Surface Pro all weekend is that there’s a lot of potential here, though there are still some bugs and there’s a big deficit in available apps – especially compared to what’s available for iOS and Android. The Surface Pro is a bit heavy for a tablet and the battery life is a lot shorter than my Nexus 10, but it does way more. It’s sort of an amalgamation of engineering brilliance and management incompetence. There are clearly still some very smart people at Microsoft, but they don’t seem to be the ones in charge.
Bottom line, I like it! I hope that Microsoft fixes the design errors and bugs, and that developers create more apps for it so Windows 8 and the Surface Pro (or its successors) can reach its potential.