Three days in the life of a once and former Microsoft Surface RT user

Summary:David Gewirtz showcases three days in the life of a typical consumer, originally excited by the Microsoft Surface RT tablet, who eventually becomes more and more upset and disappointed. David predicts this scenario will be repeated over and over in real life.

Kevin notices "Windows RT" on the display placard and remembers he wanted to learn a little more about RT before buying. Is it or isn't it Windows 8? He turns to the salesperson and asks, "What can you tell me about Windows RT?"

Salesperson: The Microsoft Surface RT has Windows 8 on it.

Kevin: Well, are there any other limitations I should be concerned about?

Salesperson: Also it can not do an installation of x86/64 and desktop software.

Kevin knows all about desktop software, and once in a while, when poking around Windows on his computers at home and at work, he's seen mention of x86/64. But he's never really figured out what that meant.

Many people using Windows never really encountered how techies refer to the Intel platform. X86 is the 32-bit version of Windows (named after the 80x86 processors it initially ran on) and the 64-bit version is used to describe the 64-bit versions of the OS and programs. Among other things, the 64-bit OS can support a lot more RAM on the computer. But Kevin doesn't really know all this. He's been using 32-bit Windows installs, with less than 4GB of RAM, for years and it's just fine for him.

But, since the sales person brought up x86/64, Kevin asks what it means.

Salesperson: It's nothing you'd care about, that's more for people who are building their own software.

Kevin's not a programmer. He just wants to use the thing. He knows a programmer in the office, and that guy has a beast of a computer, two huge screens, and he's always cranky. Kevin has no intention of programming. He can't imagine being a programmer. The guy's always squinting and mumbling profanities under his breath about semicolons!

Of course, the salesperson's answer isn't true. What the spec really means is that Kevin is destined for disappointment. But let's not get ahead of our story.

Kevin is just about to pull the trigger, and then he remembers: his games. One of the things that really excites him about the Surface RT is that he wants to run some of his Steam games on it. He is pretty sure it can't handle his high-end shooters, but Kevin has a whole library of fun, older games and board and strategy-style games he thinks would be a hoot to run on his new tablet.

Kevin: I love playing Steam games. I know I probably can't run the big shooters, but should there be any other issues in running Steam? Can I run Steam and my games?

Salesperson: Sure, but you'll have to transfer them over via USB.

Dear Reader, if you've been following the trade press, you know that just about all the answers given by our fictitious salesperson are wrong. But as the Sean Hollister interviews revealed, these were real answers given by the people selling the product.

Let's continue to follow Kevin. By now, he's handed over his credit card, run up an $800+ charge, and has excitedly left the store headed home with his new prize.


Kevin's returned home, unboxed his new tablet, and plugged in the Surface RT to charge. He can't get over just how nice it feels. The fit and finish is actually nicer than anything he's seen come from Apple.

He's so excited about his purchase! It's getting pretty late, and it's a work day tomorrow, so he can't play with the device much. He loads a few Word documents onto a USB stick and transfers them over to the Surface RT. He's delighted to see that they're there. He creates a "Work" folder for them, launches Word, makes a few changes, and saves them back to the desktop.

This is just sweet. He wraps up for the night, and decides to take the Surface RT to work tomorrow.

Next up: Day 2, and unexpected frustrations...

Topics: Windows, Microsoft


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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