• My Thoughts on Microsoft Surface

    Thereís a saying: past performance is no guarantee of future results. While itís normally used to describe financial performance there are many other situations where itís true: Weekend at Bernies II, Rocky 5, Dumb and Dumberer, Batman and Robin, etc.

    Windows on PCís has been a runaway success for many years now. As popular as it has been, its big problem is that its success has been largely limited to the desktop and laptop market. The idea that there should be a computer on every desk is suddenly a very limiting concept. (anyone remember how 640kb should be enough for everyone?).
    Microsoft has tried to put Windows onto TVís with their Media Center software. Iíve tried it numerous times and have never been satisfied with the result. Itís not flexible enough and requires too much work. I also havenít been able to convince any family members to jump through the hoops to get it to work. Inevitably youíll also need to exit the Media Center interface at some point which is when youíll realize the Windows user interface just isnít suited for use on a TV.

    Iíve also experimented with various Tablet optimized versions of Windows from the first Windows XP Tablet Edition all the way to a beta version of Windows 8 on an ASUS tablet. On XP Tablet Edition the experience was a complete and utter train wreck. It was hard to enter text and for the most part the things were too small to touch. To me it was basically unusable unless you were running specialty software which made it easier to use.

    Windows 8 on the Asus Tablet was a little better in that Microsoft finally included a decent keyboard plus they added the Metro UI from their Windows Phones which made it easier to use. The problem here is that when I use Windows I want to use the Windows programs Iím used to. Those programs donít necessarily work with Metro which then requires me to use the classic desktop which isnít well suited for a tablet.

    The other day, Microsoft announced their new Surface Tablet. It runs their upcoming Windows 8 operating system. There are versions available for both Intelís x86 architecture (Surface Pro) as well as the ARM architecture (Surface) which is found on pretty much all smartphone platforms.

    In a break from tradition, instead of being available from their partners (like ASUS, Acer, HP, Dell, Lenovo) Surface is only available from Microsoft. Perhaps itís a case of Microsoft not being confident that their partners can properly interpret their vision of Surface.

    Is Microsoft Cool again?


    On a slightly different but still relevant front Microsoft is poised to open their first store in Canada. While Canada isnít a huge market it shows that theyíre serious about their Surface push.

    Past performance...


    Of course, Microsoft going it alone isnít the first time theyíve done this. The first four things that come to mind when I think about Microsoft hardware are XBOX, XBOX 360, KIN and Zune. The first 2 are examples of success while the last 2, not so much. So going alone might not work.

    Then again, maybe Microsoft wants to become more vertically integrated. On the Windows Phone front the best thing I can say about their partnership with Nokia is that weíll have to wait and see. Maybe Microsoft sees a brigther future if they go it alone.

    When is a great legacy a bad thing?


    To me, the greatest thing about Windows is that Iím able to run my favorite programs on it. This may also be one of the worst things about Surface. If Iím to buy a Surface tablet Iím doing it because I want the program compatibility. The problem is that while programs may work I may not enjoy using them because of the difference in form factors.

    When the iPad and Android tablets came out they didnít have the weight of 10 years worth of programs compatibility weighing down on them. In a sense they got to have a fresh start.

    Now itís obvious some developers will rewrite their programs to be Metro friendly. In Microsoftís ideal world all developers will do this within a couple of months and weíll all forget about the classic Windows desktop giving Microsoft the fresh start they need.

    The reality is that most developers will probably take a wait-and-see approach with Surface. If customers buy it they will develop for it. In the meanwhile they will focus their attention on iPad and Android. Most customers will adopt a similar strategy. Itís one of the reasons why itís so hard to get an ecosystem started.

    When is choice a bad thing?

    Surface will be available in x86 (like our desktops) and ARM flavours. The x86 versions will be compatible with the programs we expect to be compatible with Windows. The ARM flavour will be running a different architecture which is not compatible with x86. Try explaining this to a non enthusiast.

    The wild card is business

    If you look at any business and North America youíll probably find at least one computer running Windows. So intuitively Surface will take off because businesses will demand it right? Not so fast - if that was the case weíd all still be using Blackberries. The market has changed fundamentally. Itís now very much a bring your own device market.

    So where is the demand for Surface going to come from?

    Timing is key


    No matter how perfect Surface and Windows 8 are one factor which looms over it is that itís really late to market. Weíre on our 3rd iPad generation while Android tablets are about 2.5 generations in. Thereís a reason why the 2 dominant Tablet ecosystems both launched in approximately the same time frame.

    If you already own an iPad with a bunch of programs on it and are happy with it why would you buy a Surface?

    Iíll buy that for a dollar!

    One wildcard is the price. I remember netbooks, they were really, really cheap laptop PCís which were just terrible. While they were adequate for surfing the web theyíve pretty much died off. You can make really cheap PCís but theyíre not going to be really good.

    The tablet space is so competitive we already have many sub $250/$200 Android tablets. Even the iPad 2ís price has dropped from a low of $499 to $399.

    Solid hardware

    Even if the Surface is a very solid piece of hardware (and initial impressions are that it is) itís not enough to have great hardware. Look at the Blackberry Playbook - itís a solid piece of kit. The Palm Pre wasnít bad. These days it takes more than solid hardware to succeed.

    Good luck!

    Just because Microsoft Windows has billions of users does not mean billions of users will want a Surface.

    The irony of this piece is that I typed part of this on my Windows 7 laptop and finished it up on my Windows 7 desktop.

    While I hope Microsoft succeeds itís going to be an uphill battle. The industry needs competition otherwise it will grow stagnant.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: My Thoughts on Microsoft Surface started by howard View original post
    Comments 15 Comments
    1. migo's Avatar
      migo -
      Android is hardly a dominant tablet ecosystem. Only the iPad is right now. Can the Surface dethrone the iPad? That'll be tough and take some time. Compared to any 10" Android tablet, the Surface will sell way better. It might not outsell a 7" tablet like the Kindle Fire or the rumoured Nexus Tablet, but those are also a lot cheaper.

      The Windows 8 Pro surface has a huge advantage - being the legacy support. If you're interested in getting an Ultrabook because you still need legacy Windows programs to work, you might as well spend the same amount and also get a tablet, and the Ultrabook category is doing quite well. The Windows RT one... well, that'll have a bit more of a niche appeal - exactly like any 10" Android tablet.

      Microsoft is targetting a bit of a different market here, and the Windows 8 Pro tablets by their partners are really attacking the MacBook Air the same way the iPad attacked netbooks.
    1. ALSHugh's Avatar
      ALSHugh -
      Is there actually even a tablet market? Anything Apple that isn't a pile of coal will sell like gold in a box to enough people to make it a success. What would that market look like sans-iPad? I think MS needs to leave the tablet segment alone and put all its resources behind touchscreen enabled Windows 8 Ultrbooks.
    1. migo's Avatar
      migo -
      Yes, there's a tablet market. Apple's first disruption of it was on price, bringing it down to $500, HP, RIM, Amazon and B&N made the next disruption at the $200 range. The issue isn't that there's only an iPad market (there's clearly a market for other 7" tablets), it's just that in the 10" range, Android is inadequate (as was the TouchPad).

      Besides, the Windows 8 Pro surface pretty much is a touchscreen ultrabook, and Asus showed with the Transformer that the ideal form factor involves a detachable keyboard of some sort.
    1. ALSHugh's Avatar
      ALSHugh -
      My question was more rhetorical than anything else. If you remove the iPad, how much is that tablet market worth and should you invest in it? Laptops are more flexible and productive, phones are more portable, why would anyone actually buy a tablet? What can you do on an iPad that you cannot either do on an iPhone or MacBook? HP abandoned the market for a reason, it's not worthwhile, something MS is going to find out after wasting a ton of money.
    1. migo's Avatar
      migo -
      Laptops aren't more flexible. Tablets are. That was the case when MS tried with the Tablet PC, the only problem is nobody could justify spending $3,000+ for that flexibility.
    1. TC_Mits's Avatar
      TC_Mits -
      What intrigues me most about the x86 Surface Pro is the old familiar apps. If I can put the "real" Office on a tablet *and* on my intel chipped cellphone that's big for me. If I can sideload VLC, that's like WOW! The whole Android world knows that there is just no universal quality media app that does it all. Android needs VLC. For the wealth of such quality apps as that, which exist in the Windows legacy ecosystem, I would give WP8 a shot.


      Perspective instantiates reality.
      [From DX by HoFo app.]
    1. ronaldheld's Avatar
      ronaldheld -
      How functional will be Win 8 pro tablet in desktop mode running my desktop programs?
    1. migo's Avatar
      migo -
      Perfectly functional, as long as you're not doing anything GPU intensive (I doubt MS will throw a GT610 in, much less anything more powerful).
    1. ronaldheld's Avatar
      ronaldheld -
      All we are getting is the 4000 integrated GPU in the i5?
    1. TC_Mits's Avatar
      TC_Mits -
      Quote Originally Posted by ronaldheld View Post
      How functional will be Win 8 pro tablet in desktop mode running my desktop programs?
      What little I have read makes me think it should be transparent. If it runs on Win8 it also runs on WP8 x86. The concerns I saw were from the desktop side: MS not wishing its vast desktop base to get caught up in seeing Win8 as a 'touch' OS.

      Remember that a WP8 handset will now run the same NT kernel as Win8 desktop PCs.


      Perspective instantiates reality.
      [From DX by HoFo app.]
    1. TC_Mits's Avatar
      TC_Mits -
      Quote Originally Posted by migo View Post
      Perfectly functional, as long as you're not doing anything GPU intensive (I doubt MS will throw a GT610 in, much less anything more powerful).
      The S4 Krait was mentioned in one article, which also noted that the NT kernel can manage 64 cores. This was in the context of MS's desire for a more powerful device,

      Perspective instantiates reality.
      [From DX by HoFo app.]
    1. turbogeek's Avatar
      turbogeek -
      Quote Originally Posted by TC_Mits View Post
      What intrigues me most about the x86 Surface Pro is the old familiar apps. If I can put the "real" Office on a tablet *and* on my intel chipped cellphone that's big for me. If I can sideload VLC, that's like WOW! The whole Android world knows that there is just no universal quality media app that does it all. Android needs VLC. For the wealth of such quality apps as that, which exist in the Windows legacy ecosystem, I would give WP8 a shot.


      Perspective instantiates reality.
      [From DX by HoFo app.]
      Beta www.videolan.org/vlc/download-android.html
    1. TC_Mits's Avatar
      TC_Mits -
      Quote Originally Posted by turbogeek View Post
      I'm aware of that. It streams from your PC but it's not a native Android app that will play mp3s or Divx from your SD.

      ...Searching ...
      Damn! I lied. Is that the real full-blown VLC?! After 2 years I had just plain given up. How long has it been up? Didn't see a date on the page.

      Hallalujah. Hallalujah. Hallalujah.

      EDIT: Couldn't find it. The linked page has no "download" button. It says "Play Store" pkgs coming soon, but there's no date on the page! Could be a month or two old, idk. And there's nothing Videolan in the play place either.
      Going to 'Home' and working forward just brings up the same page.
      Oh well...


      Perspective instantiates reality.
      [From DX by HoFo app.]
    1. turbogeek's Avatar
      turbogeek -
      An unofficial beta release was reportedly bouncing around the interwebs, finally they just came out and announced 'coming soon'. I'd wager on it being out before surface though.
    1. TC_Mits's Avatar
      TC_Mits -
      Hope you're right...

      But Android is nearly 5 years old and still has nothing to compete or compare with VLC -- not even close. It just shouldn't be that hard! Ditto anti-virus security suites, 'Office' suites, etc. JGSoft Editpad is a personal favorite -- love to have it on my phone, too.

      Moving a handset into the legacy Windows application environment would provide access to a wealth of similar mature software that it seems like Android -- and iOS -- will still need awhile to begin to match.


      Perspective instantiates reality.
      [From DX by HoFo app.]