Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Microsoft Surface, Yet

I exist pretty happily in my Apple-filled tech cocoon.  I use an iMac on my desk, carry a MacBook Air in my backpack when on the road, have an iPhone 5 in my pocket, an iPad lying around somewhere, and an iPad Mini on the way to replace my ancient Kindle.  But that doesn’t mean I ignore or reject other tech, or treat Apple as a religion.  OK, well at least it doesn’t mean I ignore other tech.

I have been following the development and release of Windows 8 and Microsoft’s Surface tablet closely.  I installed most of the Windows 8 betas on an old laptop.  Without going into a lot of detail, my view of Windows 8 is that it is a transitional OS that will ultimately be much more Metro (or whatever we’re supposed to call it) and much less traditional desktop.  But they can’t move all our cheese at once, so we get the best (or perhaps worst) of both worlds for now.  I have no problem with this, although as a committed desktop user, I wonder how desktops fit into the largely mobile-focused evolution we are experiencing (a touch screen iMac- which I firmly believe will happen, one day- would put my mind at rest, but that’s a topic for another day).


I bought a Microsoft Surface RT shortly after they were released.  Here’s the bottom line.  The hardware is very, very nice.  Way better than any Android device.  The tablet looks and feels sturdy and nice, and the keyboard/cover works amazingly well.  The software, however, is very, very frustrating.  For two reasons.  One, there are simply very few compelling apps in the App Store.  This problem will likely be addressed over time, as developers fill what looks to be more than sufficient demand.  Two, the Surface RT cannot run regular Windows applications.  You get a bundled version of Office in the desktop environment, and Metro (or whatever we are supposed to call it) apps from the App Store.  This problem will not be fixed, as far as the Surface RT is concerned.

But there is hope.  And not just a fool’s hope.

Sometime next year, Microsoft will release the Surface Pro, which will run a full version of Windows 8- meaning you can install and use both Metro (or whatever we are supposed to call it) apps and regular Windows software.  This will be much, much better.  As good as an iPad at being an iPad?  Probably not, but as my pal Ed Bott correctly points out, that is not the standard by which it should be judged.  Will I dump my iPads for a Surface Pro?  Nope.  Will I buy one, thereby having an additional tool in my tech bag and a Windows computer in a house that otherwise would be devoid of one?  Probably not.  Especially if I’d have to pay for a subscription to get useful Office apps on my iPad (that plan irritates me, but makes sense from Microsoft’s perspective).  Will it be infinitely better than any manner of Android device, if for no other reason than Microsoft will manage the upgrade process with some semblance of logic and predictability?  Certainly.

So, if you want a Surface you should get one.  Next year.