A Surface RT Christmas story

A Surface RT Christmas story

Summary: The reduced pricing for the Surface RT made it a reasonable gift for the holidays. That may not be a good thing.

(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Last weekend I was standing in line in a local coffee shop ordering my usual beverage. I frequently work in local beaneries, and the staffs in them know me by sight and what I do for a living. The barista took my order and then surprised me with his statement.

"I got a Surface RT for Christmas."

"You must have been good this year, that's a nice gift" I replied. I do believe it is, so I was puzzled to see his face reflect little enthusiasm as he made the comment. It made sense when he continued.

"I liked it at first, but it's too restrictive. I can only get apps from the store and can't load two apps that I really need."

Windows RT tablets may be "real laptops" with Windows and Office, but only to a point, as the barista discovered when he received one as a gift.

Ah, the old Windows RT limit raises its ugly head in the real world. The inability to load legacy, or desktop apps was too much for me, too, although now there are Windows apps that meet my needs so it's less of a problem than it was back then.

Even so, I can't see buying a Windows RT tablet with the restriction when full Windows 8 devices are getting so cheap.

The big ad campaign that Microsoft and Nokia has been running doesn't help matters. Windows RT tablets may be "real laptops" with Windows and Office, but only to a point, as the barista discovered when he received one as a gift.

Thinking about the barista's situation, it seems this might be a common scenario. He was given a nice gift that he's discovered can't meet his needs, but he's not in a position to return it. He can't afford to trade up to a Surface Pro, first or second generation, and he doesn't want to make the gift giver feel bad. He's stuck with the Surface RT that doesn't fully do what he needs.

I'll bet this situation might be experienced by a few this year. Many consumers have no idea there is a difference between the Surface RT or Surface 2 and the Surface Pro, other than hundreds of dollars. The cheaper Surface seems like the perfect gift and I'll bet many went that route, and now some are unhappy they can't load their programs.

Savvy shoppers can research tablets and make sure they get one that meets their needs. Those receiving gifts don't have that luxury, they are at the mercy of the gift buyer who often just goes by price. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of Windows RT tablets made it under the tree when a Windows 8 device was really needed.

Microsoft may have to deal with returns of the product, or worse, have unhappy owners of them. Neither is a good situation. This Christmas story may not have a happy ending for the folks in Redmond.

Returning to the barista, I asked him if he got a keyboard with the Surface RT. He didn't, and said he was undecided whether to get the soft Touch Cover or the Type Cover. I told him that some like the Touch Cover but I found the Type Cover better for lots of typing. He still wasn't sure, and he still wasn't smiling while thinking about his gift.

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Topics: Mobility, Tablets, Microsoft Surface, Windows 8

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  • what were the missing apps?

    Did you find out? Did you check if they had equivalent web sites? I've met people who wanted a Windows Store app then found the website did more than the iOS app for it...
    • Nope

      He had to keep working so I couldn't run it down with him.
      • keyboard

        Yet you had time to discuss the keyboard...sounds like a help and useful exchange /s
        • Sorry James but...

          This article is wrong intentioned and there is no point about it. This subject was covered over and over again. An Rt is no laptop, it's a tablet with an Ms Office capability and apps that comes from a market. It is exactly the same concept as an Android tablet and an iPad. Based on your logic, the millions of people who got an iPad this Christmas should be sad?

          An RT with Office is a great deal. If you buy a touch cover for it, it is even better. It is not a bad thing but a good thing that Apple can't match.

          Now let's talk about those apps that you guy really wanted. Were you talking about X86 application or Apps that are not yet available on the windows Store? You see, there are less apps available for the windows platform but the most important one are there now and more are announced for soon. Honesty the gap is between the platforms in terms of useful apps is shrinking. You are aware that Osx apps don't work either on an iPad?

          I am getting truly annoyed buy these article that makes the Surface appear like sh**. I honestly believe that they were published to make people react and get some traction from Google who likes bad press about the Surface. Let me just say this, the Surface RT is better than many other tablets out there for these reasons:

          - It can have up to 3 apps on the screen at ounce
          - Free Office suite
          - windows 8.1 with a real file manager
          - it can browse a network, fetch or open remote files
          - remote desktop
          - footstool, Integrated SD card adapter, USB connector
          - print on any Bluetooth, WiFi on your lam/network printer
          - integrated SkyDrive service.
          - syncs your settings on your other Windows computers
          - metro ie11 with it's less is more interface

          I have been using Surface tablets since the first day they were made available. I am now using a Surface 2. My girlfriend got tired of feeling controlled by iTunes and her iPad every time she wanted to watch a video on our network drive, fetch photos or try to save a file on a remote device. After seeing how simple things are on a surface, she bought a Surface 2 also. She got it 6 weeks ago and since then, her iPad is pretty much useless for her.

          So James, this is real world check. Please take a moment to write an article on the exact cost of owning s chrome device or a an Android considering that Google reads your email, clouded files, Google docs,... to profile you, sell your personal information, push ads and who knows how far Google is going to make cash.
          • I'm certain Mr. Kendrick will return to that barista

            with all of your anger issues and give the man the sound thrashing he deserves
          • Microsoft disagrees with you.


            They promote the Surface as both tablet AND laptop. (See the 40 point Cyan type called "Laptop meets tablet.")
          • Pro

            I agree. It's a pro model however and that my friend can be compared to a laptop.
          • You never read

            You must not have read the article. He is missing two apps he really needs. TABLETS use apps, and live or die by apps. It is not like a laptop or Chromebook which uses a browser. People want and need apps which are best for tablets.
          • The question is, what apps?

            From James article, it is not clear if the guy was talking about a "Windows 8 app", or a desktop program. This article is pointless without know what apps he needs. There is nothing missing on the Surface for me. If there were, I could use the browser and/or Remote Desktop as a solution.
          • To Be or Not To Be

            I'm sure there were many meetings at Microsoft where people discussed the potential for confusion arising from the use of the Windows brand on something that does not do what most non-techies would expect Windows to do. In the end Microsoft decided to go ahead, presumably believing that on balance, the use of the term Windows would have more upside than downside.

            And maybe it does. I don't know. But I do know that the downside is there, and it is not small, and James is correct that there are likely to be many thousands of people who now have RT machines and can't figure out how to make them run Windows apps. These people do not read ZDNet, they couldn't articulate the difference between an "app" and a web-based solution, and they might not know anyone who could.

            It always amazes me when reading ZDNet that people here seem to think that anyone who runs into a problem should just modify the MBR and route the sensors through the Heisenberg compensators. These people don't know how to do that. They are more likely to stuff the RT machine in a drawer and never look at it again. It's too bad, but that's the way the world works. It's also a deliberate choice that Microsoft made. They decided to call something "Windows" that isn't really Windows (as non-techies understand the term) and they surely knew this would create a sizable body of unhappy customers.
            Robert Hahn
          • The Gamble

            Well, it's a follow-on product, so it has to differentiate some way. From my viewpoint, the value of the form factor is that it does interesting things you want done without it being a computer.

            So maybe the marketing theory behind the RT is to suggest it is laptop-ish so that those who have not engaged with iPads (and competitive Android devices) have a reason to get the RT (well, cool, finally a laptop that's very mobile!) only to be even more thrilled when they find out that they didn't know they didn't really want a laptop, but really wanted an appliance a la the iPad.

            Then again, the company that brought us Home, Home Premium, Professional, Premium client operating systems may have been hoping for a second dive into the wallet with upselling—somehow—the RT.

            Hey, I don't know. By about January 25th, we'll know how everyone did with their products.
          • Yup

            And it's not just "Windows that really isn't Windows", but Microsoft continually not even discussing that issue at a level accessible to consumers. The only conclusion is that they simply lack a cogent marketing plan (unlikely, given the over US$1 billion already spent on Surface marketing), or they're intentionally selling you something you may not want, and hoping you just don't notice... at least as long as the returns window is open.

            They should be educating the public on desktop vs tablet applications, and on which devices each actually work. Might as well as phones in there too... coming from iOS, a person would expect all phone apps to run on the corresponding tablet. And a person coming from Android would expect all apps to run on all devices, phone, tablet, or something new. As Microsoft moves into this market segment, it's a mistake for them to plow through as if they owned the place... they don't. They need to adapt to the expectations set by other systems, to grab any significant marjet share and not just convert those first round customers into anti-Microsoft activists.
          • What Apps is Irrelevant

            You Windows fan boys are amazing. What apps? I never found myself asking that question when reading the article.

            I've read many stories like Kendrick's where the apps were mentioned like Instagram on Windows phone only to have you Windows fan boys chime in with "oh we got an app for that!" (This was before there was an Instagram app for Nokia phones).

            Fact is, the tablet is not giving a premium experience. RT was supposedly designed to go toe to toe with iPad. If the user cannot easily find the best quality apps for their device then it doesn't do what it's supposed to do.
          • It's Microsoft Misleading People

            The Guy Thought he got Windows, But didn't.
            Microsoft markets the Surface RT as a Laptop/Tablet, Apple markets the iPad as a Tablet only. It's Microsoft misleading people for the sake of making a few bucks.

            James Kendrick's article is spot on
          • BS!

            I can author a web page, create a web app, and anyone in the world can visit it, have more than one window open to it, etc. To do the same with an "app" I would have to write one for each platform, get it passed through the respective stores, and each time it needed updating I would have to go through that process again and again.

            Apps makes sense for disconnected usage or programs that are process/GPU intensive like games. But if its something that needs a internet connection anyway, like say Hulu, why install an app when you can just use the web page? Same with all those news sites that have apps. Want an icon to the site, create a shortcut.

            Heck, I just reloaded my Mac and barely have 10 programs installed on it outside the OS and one of them is Chrome which I use 90% of the time (9% its RDP).
            Rann Xeroxx
          • Even web pages need apps...

            ..even if that app is just a web browser.

            Even for fully-connected apps, often a native, local app provides a better experience to the user - just ask anyone who uses YouTube, Netflix, or Facebook on a tablet.
          • Not everyone needs a desktop

            And sure, particularly with HTML5, one web app can serve every tablet, Chromebooks, and regular PCs. If the app is very light on client resources and depends on the availability of connectivity, better still. In fact, there are a bunch of new low-end phone OSs, like Ubuntu for Phones, Tizen, etc that are based on the premise that web apps will do the job.

            One reason developers do local apps is that they're not doing internet things, but "PC" things. The data is inherently local.. I'd hate to lose my eBooks or my DirecTV synched videos once I'm on the plane. But yeah, I do't expect Facebook or Hulu to work offline.

            It can also be an OS optimization issue... on Android, video apps that don't give you the -screen interface when used with Chromecast (or any other DIAL compliant device) are going to be seen as second-rate, probably left behind for more compliant apps. In other cases, the app may be an obviously useful widget, which you don't gey online. Or very interactive... it's expensive, power-wise, to send too much stuff to/from a server. Low power operation demands a robust client.

            Of course, what we're seeing more of is the web apps are getting good, and the same company may offer something improved for iOS and Android. But probably not every platform down the line. And that may be a problem fir Microsoft, getting grouped into that "no special version" class with the numbers 4 to finish mobile platforms.

            As for number of apps, some users really do live on the web. If so, they probabky do not need a real PC. I have several hundred applications on my home PC... and also a very fast home PC. CAD, video, music, photography, these things can't be done at anything but a trivial level online, and benefit from lots of specialized programs. But that's exactly why the mobile is "winning"... most people don't use the PC they have.
          • So you should buy a Chromebook...

            ...which made sense to 21 percent of the current commercial Laptop buyers.

            For the rest of us, the web experience is nothing compared to the richness of a full client.

            Ever since the Client/Server era did we learn that terminals (which web is basically a extension of) are good for almost all things, except the essential ones.

            For example, I use Internet banking all the time, but I feel more secure with mobile solutions. Web sites are pretty vulnerable and it's easy to deface HTML using malware. If a bank goes through all the hoops to publish an app, you pretty much can be sure they are doing their best to be secure.

            On the hand, Mister Xeroxx (which was the company that missed the GUI opportunity just because it would fit its copier model), I'm pretty sure things like Instagram, Cir.ca, Summly, Foursquare, Bump and Moves are almost impossible with Web. Even push notifications are out of limits using HTML even HTML5, unless you keep a window open and use WebSockets, which is kinda messy solution.

            In the end, Windows RT and Windows 8 are getting the apps, but not the innovation. The current mobile cycle starts with iOS, continues with Android and in the end, lands in BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Windows RT. That guarantees you as a WP/W RT user will get the app "in the mean time", but you'll likely miss trends or fads, or game changers like Summly and Snapchat.
          • Exactly

            They can't leave Surface RT alone to make their awful iPad looks good!
          • @jonnybr

            "They can't leave Surface RT alone to make their awful iPad looks good!"


            Oh, wait, you are serious aren't you? Ouch.