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30Nov/12Off

Is the Surface destined to be the next Zune for MS?

First off  - sorry to my three readers I haven't posted in a bit, there just hasn't been a whole lot interesting going on. Obviously I am excited about HP's storage announcements that are coming in a few days, I expect some posts out of that :)

Anyway back to Microsoft's Surface. One of the rumours is Microsoft had halved orders for the Surface RT due to less than anticipated demand. Other RT-based tablets have performed similarly poorly.

I just was thinking about the time when Microsoft brought out the first Zune, they were not satisfied with how their partners were unable to compete against the iPod, and in a stroke of brilliance brought out their own product along with a new music store which broke compatibility with all other Windows media players on the market. The thing that I remember most about the Zune, well pretty much the only thing was it's squirt feature.

[..] Steve Ballmer in his infamously disturbing interview in BusinessWeek that evoked horrible images of brown Zunes squirting all over each other:

"Guys who can touch us in multiple places probably matter more than guys who can touch us in any one place.”
“I want to squirt you a picture of my kids. You want to squirt me back a video of your vacation. That's a software experience."
Zunes squirt, and don’t you forget it Robertson, or there might be a chair headed your way.

So here we are again, Microsoft is once again frustrated by it's partners not being able to compete effectively against the iPad, and they believe they can make a more effective user experience. So enter stage left the Surface and Surface Pro. Dell has recently launched an advertising blitz for their XPS 12 touch enabled Windows 8 Pro UltraBook Tablet. I swear when I was on the website yesterday it claimed a ship date of early next month, but now it claims a ship date of Jan 3 2013, and an entry level price tag of $1199 for 4GB RAM, 128G SSD, Intel i5 processor in a 3.35 pound package, that is a really heavy tablet (when it's in tablet mode of course).

Yesterday pricing was released for the Surface Pro, with keyboard the prices are roughly $1020 for 4GB RAM and 64GB SSD to $1120 for 128G SSD. Without the keyboard the Surface weighs in at just two pounds - or about 6oz more than one of my HP Touchpads.

Battery life on the Surface Pro is expected to be 4-6 hours, obviously less than ARM-based systems, but still a respectable number I think.

I am sort of surprised that something as powerful as a Core i5 is being used, rather than the Atom, which was supposed to be Intel's go-to product for things like tablets. The processor they are using looks to have a 17W TDP, which includes an Intel video chipset. Compared to the latest and greatest Atom which has a 10W TDP without a video chipset. I'm sure the i5 smokes the Atom pretty easily, so probably was a good trade off for a few extra watts of power.

When I saw the price I was pretty shocked - I really expected the Pro to cost about $200 more.  Sure it's not really price competitive with other Tablets out there but to me at least it's really not a tablet - it's a touch enabled Ultrabook, much like Dell's XPS 12 offering. It's running an x86 processor with PC applications being it's key selling point. I would expect most people to not consider the Surface Pro to be in the same market as an iPad or Android tablets so direct comparisons will probably be rare after the initial launch is complete.

With each successive consumer operating system launch Microsoft has had over the past decade the level of excitement has declined - the one exception perhaps is Windows 7, people were happy to get that after being screwed by Vista.

I've been convinced since the beginning that the Windows 8 stuff won't make a dent in iPad sales (unless you consider stemming the losses of PC sales a dent by shifting some of those losses to Surface).

What Microsoft has come up with hasn't done anything for me at least to change my opinion (remember this is someone who has a ton of WebOS stuff - though was never convinced WebOS at the time had the ability to inflict anything upon Apple - it makes me sad in some respects to see OpenWebOS crawl along, I know with each passing day they fall further and further behind due to lack of resources).

I suspect the RT-based devices will do quite poorly as well, obviously the market has gotten along just fine over recent years without having Microsoft Office on a tablet. There have been many reports of organizations large and small doing massive deployments of iPads to support their businesses.

Microsoft did a huge disservice to their customers by not properly porting their Office apps to Metro, thus forcing two different user interfaces on the devices. On top of that they did a further disservice by consuming such a large portion of the internal SSD for stupid things like a recovery partition. Don't we live in the world of cloud today? Even WebOS can recover easily just by connecting the device to a computer and running an application to do a full OS re-install, even if the device seems "bricked".

I fully expected something like that for Windows 8, and for the surface perhaps something built in - perhaps a ~200MB rescue partition that has enough software to boot the device, connect to the internet and recover from the cloud. (though I'd still rather have it local since it can take a while). Or be able to put the rescue stuff on a SD card.

Microsoft does provide a means to recover via USB, but it's far from straight forward (should be included in the new user startup wizard). Though from what I see they don't go so far as to make the recovery information downloadable from the internet.

To create a USB Recovery Drive on a Surface RT, follow these steps:

  1. From the Start screen, tap the Desktop tile to open the Windows Desktop.
  2. Slide your finger in from the right to fetch the Charms bar, then tap the Settings icon.
  3. When the Settings Pane appears, tap the words Control Panel from the pane’s top edge.
  4. When the Desktop Control Panel appears, tap the System and Security section, then tap File History.
  5. When the File History window appears, shown below, tap Recovery in the bottom, left corner. Then tap Create a Recovery Drive when the Recovery window appears.

The Surface Pro does look like a decent product for the space - though I believe the space will flop significantly based on the expectations.

I suspect that Windows 8 (at least the metro side of things) will flop just about as much as Vista did. At least as long as there are the dual interfaces that are totally incompatible with each other (e.g. apparently Internet explorer in Metro and Internet explorer on the desktop are oblivious of each other). If/when Microsoft can figure out how to properly unify them they may have something. I suspect most developers will continue to target the desktop mode because of course there is a large market out there of existing pre-Metro operating systems.

It's a decent first step for Microsoft getting their software ready for tablets, they still have a lot of work to do  - what is the old saying - by version 3 they usually get it right ?

This is version 1..

TechOps Guy: Nate

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