I often thought I’d like to have a career in 3D animation, solely so I could send out invoices with the title of this blog post as their content.
It seems a little late for me to choose that career, so I’ll have to use that title for a blog posting about my Surface, now that I am three weeks in to using it.
There’s no secret (or if there is, it’s poorly hidden) to the fact that MVPs visiting Redmond for the MVP Summit this year received a pretty sweet deal on a 32GB Surface 2 and Touch Cover. Along with hundreds of my brethren, I lined up at the Microsoft Store in Bellevue yelling “shut up and take my money!”
As an actual purchase, rather than a complete giveaway, I did have to pass the purchasing decision through my boss. Fortunately, she agreed that it was a good buy, as long as I treated it as a purchase of a toy for me, and stopped trying to persuade her it was a bona fide business investment for the company. Canny woman, my wife, and skilled at reducing arguments to their simplest and most incisive points.
So, a toy it was pitched as, a replacement for my iPad, which I also got for very little money – I won it in a hacking competition. As a toy, I couldn’t expect to get the Surface Pro, which is convenient, because one wasn’t offered.
What’s it like as a toy?
Does it have the Angry Birds,then? Space and Star Wars versions, yes – Rovio hasn’t been paid to get around to porting the others to Windows 8 yet.
It’s also got Minesweeper and Solitaire, with the added thrill of daily challenges, and an Adventure Mode for Minesweeper that looks a little ripped off from Repton. Mahjong, Jetpack Joyride, Cut the Rope, there’s enough games that while you might find a few individual names here and there that are missing, you’ll be able to replace them with something in the same genre.
The front and back camera make for good Skype use, whether you’re having a face-to-face chat, or showing someone the view out the window.
I can read comics, whether through the dozen or so manga readers, or through the Comics app from Comixology. Books come, of course, courtesy of the Kindle app, and of course there’s a native Amazon app as well, although as usual, it’s hard to get a better shopping experience in an app than Amazon has built into the web version.
That’s right, you actually have a version of Internet Explorer 11 built specially for the touch-screen “Modern UI”, which Microsoft used to call Metro, and which thoroughly needs a new name. This version of Internet Explorer is fairly basic, but fully functional for what most people are going to want it for. For most of what I do on the web, it’s certainly sufficient.
On the fringe of toydom
Social media makes its presence felt nicely in the People hub, like on my Windows Phone, where in one place I can keep up with my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn friends/followers/minions. I can also post there, although I miss my phone’s ability to post to multiple outlets at once.
If you’ve been paying attention to my gripes about podcast support on my Windows Phone, I have to say that, out of the box, I have the same – or worse –issues with the Surface 2. The native audio player does allow you to create playlists, but infallibly returns you to the start of an MP3 file almost every time you play it anew, apparently whether you played another MP3 file, skipped to a different app, or received a notification. I await the development of a good podcast / audiobook application with support for local MP3s.
On the video front, things are somewhat improved, with the Xbox Video app being the natively supported method to play my MP4s. Sadly, there’s still no subtitle support, as is the case across every single one of Microsoft’s video playing tools – if the file isn’t streaming across the web, with the closed captions in a separate stream, there’s no way to get captions to display. This is a shame, as there is good support for standard subtitles in MP4s on the Apple competition, whether it’s iPad, iPod or iPhone. Microsoft, this can’t be that hard – support accessibility on all your video players, please! [I'm not deaf, but the bus can get a little loud]
Working up to proper use
The Touch Cover is barely usable as a keyboard – but I’ve added a Bluetooth keyboard to my Christmas wishlist, for the serious typing moments, and the Touch Cover is certainly sufficient for those occasional bon mots on the bus or airplane.
Sadly, Live Writer isn’t available for Windows RT, so I’m not likely to use this for many blogs – although to keep myself honest, I am typing this on the Surface using the Touch Cover keyboard.
To write the blog entry, I’m actually using Word with its blogging template.
Woah, did you say Word? On RT?
Why yes, yes I did – but since the presence of Office 2013 on the Surface was advertised (at least, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Word and Outlook), this was hardly a surprise to me – but it seems like a surprise to many of my Apple-owning friends who are just starting to get excited that Apple have deigned to let them have iWorks on their iPads now.
But the inclusion of Office isn’t the only thing that makes this device veer further into the territory of a non-toy.
I wasn’t really expecting that Windows RT would have a desktop mode. I pretty much thought it would be Modern UI apps and nothing else. That seemed like it would suck, because I can’t then copy files across the network for playing MP3s and MP4s on the bus to and from work.
So a friend of mine set my fears at rest before I bought the Surface, and let me know that there was indeed a desktop, and a Windows Explorer. That was the tipping point to realizing I could get along with my Surface.
Then came the surprises.
There’s a Desktop version of Internet Explorer – and this one is fully functional! It even has “View Source” and the F12 Developer Tools, Microsoft’s best-kept secret in IE for some time now. [On your Touch Cover, you get F12 by holding down the "Fn" key as you press "PgDn"] This means I can carry on my Cross-Site Scripting endeavours on my Surface – which I couldn’t do from my iPad at all.
Also not on the iPad, but present on the Surface, a full version of the Command Prompt – I can run all my old batch scripts. Notepad, too (but no WordPad, sadly). Even, and I can’t imagine using the power of this too much, PowerShell!
Flash Player, as well, which isn’t available on the iPad. Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop, so I can connect to a real computer, something that wasn’t a good experience on the iPad.
Woah, BitLocker? Wow, my hard drive is already encrypted. So too could be the 64GB MicroSD card I’ve attached for extra video and audio storage, again something I can’t do on my iPad.
PerfMon, ResMon, Event Viewer, RegEdit, Windows Scripting Host, all sorts of serious tooling works in the desktop environment. Not Visual Studio, yet, but let’s remember… this is a toy, not a real laptop.
The upshot of which is…
I use my Surface 2 far more than I ever used my iPad.
Despite a few niggling sharp corners that need to be addressed, it irritates me far less than any Apple device I’ve ever owned. This just cements in my mind that, while there are many people who love their Apples, I’m just not their target consumer. I’m not sure that I’m exactly the target consumer of the Surface, but it’s inspired me and continues to grow on me. I’m even starting to write code for it. We’ll see if that becomes anything in due course.
Java not yet available for Surface – one more advantage.