Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface

This week, TriSys took delivery of one of the first Microsoft Surface tablets to ship in the UK. Please follow this link to the TV advert currently being broadcast on national television.

Surface is a touch screen device, with a magnetic snap keyboard, and runs a brand new operating system from Microsoft called Windows RT. The RT moniker could stand for 'run-time' however this is not an official acronym. Windows RT is design for computers/tablets which use an ARM (here in Cambridge, UK) designed chip, which are the types of chips which power most mobile devices today such as smart phones and tablets.

Windows RT has two distinct personalities - the Modern UI (previously called Metro) is a tile based interface used in Windows 7 Phones. These tiles are live - meaning that they are automatically updated with content for example the number of new e-mails, or a change in stock price. Apps can be purchased and downloaded from the Windows Store and they will install onto the modern UI as new tiles. Stroking your finger horizontally from the right edge of the screen exposes the 'charms' - a context sensitive set of options for each application. Stroking your finger horizontally from the left edge of the screen switches between the running applications.

The second personality is the traditional windows desktop. This can be selected by choosing the Desktop tile and looks very similar to Windows 7. This is where traditional non-Microsoft Windows applications are designed run, however not on Windows RT. This desktop will only run traditional non-Microsoft Windows applications when running the professional version of Windows 8 which is designed for use on non-ARM chipsets i.e. Intel and AMD.

Microsoft has provided preview editions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote which run on the Surface desktop and can connect to cloud files stored in SkyDrive.

We were able to get TriSys running on Surface by connecting through to our remote desktop services and am pleased to report that this is automatically touch enabled on the Surface tablet.

My conclusion is that the Surface is a very capable competitor to the iPad. There are certain advantages over the iPad:

  • Synchronisation of Google contacts and calendars does not require trickery
  • Entering contacts into Mail does proper lookup of your contacts, not recipient history
  • Plays more videos than iPad which supports less video formats
  • Skype integration is superb - can call or text directly from contacts
  • Microsoft Office apps
  • Netflix is a great experience with very high quality video

These are the drawbacks:

  • Fewer apps that iOS and Android
  • No native YouTube, Twitter or BBC iPlayer applications
  • Unable to use cloud storage from other vendors - it insists on SkyDrive
  • Xbox music and video is buggy

Overall, I prefer the Surface to iPad and the Kindle Fire HD. The Modern UI (Metro) is better than iOS and Android, although switching between this and Desktop may confuse some users.

Surface and Windows 8 are very credible products from Microsoft and puts them back into the tablet war, although well behind iPad and Android tablets, but much closer to them than previous Windows 7 tablets. Time will see Microsoft close the gap between itself and the tablet industry leaders and Surface is the start of this process.

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