A random collection of stuff mostly about operating systems, software licensing, technology, and privacy



MikeCh’s stuff…

August 12th, 2013

What’s wrong with Windows tablets

Part One: There is nothing to do with a Surface RT

I guess I need to start with a disclaimer. I love my iPad. It is a first generation iPad and it has not given me any trouble.

It just works. It has lots of applications that I love. Every Thursday night I download and begin to read the Economist using the Economist’s application for the iPad. I read about one book a week using either the Apple iBooks, the Amazon Kindle, or the Kobo application. But, I use my iPad for more than data consumption.

I started using my iPad for data composition or collection my last semester in law school. I use Evernote (note taking), iThoughtsHD (outlining), WestLawNext, Nolo Dictionary, and FastCase (legal research), GoToMeeting (webinars and conference calls), and GoodReader (PDF annotation and commenting). I can use the included Mail application to get my e-mail from all of my post offices (regardless of whether the post office is POP3- or Exchange-based).

My iPad was the only computer I used during my last semester at law school. Again, in the spirit of full disclosure I did carry an Apple BlueTooth keyboard, and I did have to use a Windows-based computer with ExamSoft software for final exams.

You might note that I did not list any word processing, spreadsheet, or presentation software. This is because using the iPad has taught me that Microsoft Office is not as indispensable as I once thought it was.

Now let’s compare with the Microsoft Surface RT. As Microsoft likes to point out in its commercials that compare an iPad with a Surface, the Surface RT hardware is pretty good. It is a well-made device. The battery life is okay based on my measurement criteria—battery life is adequate when you feel safe to leave the house for a day without carrying the power cord and charger.

Unfortunately, with the Surface RT I have to keep the power cord with me. Somehow I don’t know how to make it sleep correctly because if I put the Surface RT to sleep, and don’t use it again within 48 hours, there isn’t sufficient power to boot.

I guess I could learn to live with that, but, the biggest problem with the Surface RT is the lack of applications in the Windows Store. As I already indicated, there are a variety of applications that are now more important to my productivity than a “non-commercial use” version of Microsoft Office. Of the applications that I use on my iPad that I listed above, only three are really available in the Windows Store.


Best Use of a Surface on the Road

Using My Surface on the Road


The first is the Economist, but on the Surface RT it is uncomfortable to read in portrait mode. In either portrait or landscape mode, turning the pages is awkward. It often takes me two to three gestures to advance a page, and I am just as likely to move back a page as move forward. If the page is for an advertisement, I often end up linking to more information about the item in the ad rather than moving to the next article.

Reading books in the Amazon Kindle application is okay, but again, it works best when reading in landscape mode. It does a good job of displaying books on the Surface RT and distinguishing them from books I own that are hosted at Amazon. And in application purchases of new books is easy. Good job Amazon.

Evernote, is finally approaching the same level of functionality as Evernote on the other platforms where I use it (including the iPad, my MacBook Pro, and my Windows PCs). I cannot find a good PDF reader that supports annotations and comments.

I can use the Microsoft provided Mail application with Exchange, but not POP. And it is only good for reading e-mails. Reading and then filing in the appropriate folder for later retrieval (which is effective time management) is virtually impossible. The whole Mail application raises the question, ‘Is this the best application Microsoft can write using the WinRT API and the Modern UI?’

Rumors have it that Windows RT 8.1 will support a version of Outlook. Unfortunately Outlook will likely be limited, like the rest of Office on the Surface RT to ‘non-commercial’ use only, although I am not sure the difference between a commercial and non-commercial e-mail is. For example, if I write a letter to a professor at Seattle University that I am friends with, but it goes through my company’s Exchange server, is it a personal or a commercial e-mail? Or if I write a letter to a company about a refund, is that commercial, regardless of the post office I route it through? But I guess the presence of Outlook might fix the lack of real Modern e-mail application.

In my opinion, working with companies like nVidia to create Surface RT 2.0 right now is a waste of Microsoft’s and the partner’s time. The lack of acceptance of the Surface RT is not related to hardware. Until the applications that people need are available in the Windows Store, the device is a non-starter. Its that simple. As I always say, I love operating systems, but they exist to run applications. Operating systems in and of themselves are only marginally useful. And regardless of the total number of applications in the store, until the last one I need is there, all the others really don’t add up to enough to make it a workable device.


Updated 08/21/2013: Changed an instance of the word Office to the word Outlook in the second to last paragraph.