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Microsoft Surface…revolutionary?


Last week Microsoft released their own hardware device – the Surface, complete with their brand new version of Windows – Windows 8, also released last week. Until now, Microsoft have relied on 3rd party hardware manufacturers to host their software so what can we expect from Microsoft’s first offering in the tablet market and what benefits does it bring in terms of personal and business use?

surface_04

surface_04 (Photo credit: SpicaGames)

The tablet market took off a couple of years ago when Apple released the iPad – no-one had seen anything like it before, with the nearest hardware devices being either the iPhone or an ultra-book. The iPad opened up a new world of opportunities in mobility of technology but one key area it failed in was the control and networking of the devices. IOS (Apple’s mobile operating system) has been through three evolutionary stages since the iPad was released, with each one offering a little more control but realistically its still a consumer product with no business control since there is no ability to network iPads.

The issue illustrated begs the question of security and information integrity. How can a company be sure that users are not installing unfavorable software, or worse still, uninstalling company software? Then there’s the issue of centralization – how many of you rely on group policies to save hours and hours of time ensuring key settings are picked up by all your devices? Quite a few I’d expect.

Despite the lack of business control, the iPad is a wonderful device – I have one for personal use and find myself being a lot more proactive at getting in touch with people, early Christmas shopping online or that all important online photo-printing order to keep the family happy. A lot of these things would not be done at all, or crammed in last-minute if it weren’t for the iPad (or any tablet for that matter).

So, less of the iPad and more of the Surface…  Having illustrated the point about networking, does the Surface offer more control? The answer is yes and no. Currently, the Surface is released with Windows 8 RT – Windows 8 Lite to you and I. This encompasses everything a personal consumer needs – it’s a controlled operating system but without the business aspect but is also a reduced price. The Surface with Windows 8 Pro is believed to be destined for release in early 2013. This will be network orientated and have all the control that businesses are used to with PCs and laptops are present.

On first impression, the Surface looks light, robust and sleek. The 10.6″ HD display means it has a slightly bigger screen than the iPad although it’s not as crisp. The device seems fast and performs well on day-to-day tasks such as emailing and web browsing. It comes complete with a case, which we love, because it’s not only protective and streamline but includes and ultra-thin keyboard which the Surface clips into. The stand out the back of the device kicks out and suddenly you have a laptop device – but much more portable!

Windows 8 - my start screen

Windows 8 – start screen (Photo credit: gynti_46)

You may ask how Windows 8 integrates with a touch screen device… Well we can report that Windows 8, which has been designed for use with both conventional computers as well as app-orientated tablets responds beautifully. It must be made known that like all devices, there are shortcuts and touch operations that invoke things such as the hugely configurable Start screen (previously known as start menu) and a side bar of all open apps. The shortcuts will take time to learn but once you’re familiar with them, they work very well indeed.

The OS was at risk of being torn apart by the critics for trying to do too much – after all, mobile operating systems have a different set of criteria but somehow Windows 8 manages to do both. There is the advantage for the laptop and PCs in that it can be used in the old familiar mode or the new app-orientated mode although neither of which have a conventional start menu. This does take time to get used to but we can see the benefit already. It’s very important for users of this generation to get used to mobile and ‘app’ cultures because it’s here to stay.

There are several built-in apps for Windows 8, either on the Surface or on conventional machines. These are reviewed in our Windows 8 article and some of which are very helpful whereas others could prove problematic in the business world – especially those providing a link between social media accounts like Facebook, to the rest of your apps and software. We hope there is a way to control this in Windows 8 Pro.

So what else is included with the Surface? Well, it has a USB slot, a micro-SD port, a headset jack and a video-out port. These are all used day by day.  It also has a HD cameras (one for either side), two microphones and speakers. All of these and its fundamental wireless connectivity (wi-fi and Bluetooth) add to the user experience. There really isn’t much you can’t do with it… The battery life doesn’t last as long as its rivals but it still lasts about 8 hours – this is enough to fly half way around the world, using it constantly…we think that’s plenty!

The crunch factors with the Surface are those of performance and useability. Does the new app interface make things disoriented for users? Not really – it’s not a secret that change takes time to get used to – just like the ribbon interface introduced to Microsoft Office 2007 but users recognize the benefit and it now makes sense. The Surface is just the same. The apps present themselves well and all the options available in the toolbar areas are context sensitive so you really needn’t search too far for what you’re trying to do. Performance wise, the tablet is slightly slower than the iPad but still switches windows quickly, responds to user input without a tedious pause that even some of the highest-rated smartphones provide and most importantly it displays things clearly – a must-have on a smaller screen.

Overall, we think the Microsoft Surface is a fantastic piece of kit. To a degree, tablets and any devices are only as good as the software that runs on them but Microsoft have responded cleverly to the demand from the market and have come up with a suite of products that compliment each other. Windows 8 wouldn’t be what it is without the Surface and the Surface would be less favoured without Windows 8. So all in all – we recommend it. Business users have a short wait on their hands but we think it will be worth it! Good job Microsoft.

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Reaching every day people and businesses with simple, effective and modern IT advice.

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