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.


For some reason, Kevin's having difficulty connecting the Surface RT to the office network. He's spoken to the IT guy, who is about as cranky as the programmer (what is it with these techies?). The IT guys says he hasn't run much Windows 8 software yet, and doesn't have time to configure another BYOD machine today.

In the meantime, the IT guy tells Kevin to just move over a copy of the company's network authorization installer and install it.

By now, it's noon, and Kevin's been fussing with the auth installer all morning. It just doesn't seem to work. He keeps getting a message that says, "This app can't run on your PC." He has a meeting to go into, so he just copies the meeting notes over to the Surface RT using a USB stick, and takes the Surface RT into the meeting.

He takes notes, but has a problem getting onto the Internet. Again, probably that auth program will need to be fixed.

It's now 2pm and Kevin catches a break. Janice tells him to connect to the guest network, which allows visitors to access the Internet without being on the corporate network. Within a few minutes, Kevin's up and running and connecting online.

That's good, because he's got a few programs he needs to download. He still can't get into the company shares (the auth program is the bottleneck), but he can download a copy of Outlook 2010 from his company's Exchange service provider. So he does that.

Kevin is one of those people who can't stand IE. It works well enough, but all his bookmarks are in Chrome, as well as all his carefully tuned extensions. So he goes to Google, types in Chrome, and downloads a copy.

It's 3:30pm and time for another meeting. Kevin loads up a PowerPoint onto his Surface RT and goes into the meeting. He doesn't have his usual bookmarks because he hasn't installed Chrome yet, so he fumbles for a bit trying to find one of his regular Web sources to answer a question -- but all-in-all, the meeting goes well.

It's 4:30pm and Kevin's got a little while before he can go home, so he tries to install Chrome. He gets another weird "This app can't run on your PC" error message, much like the one he was getting with the auth program. This is getting annoying, but it's quitting time. He'll tinker with it all after dinner.


This is what Kevin's been waiting for all day. He's been just champing at the bit to get his Steam games installed on the Surface RT. So far, Kevin hasn't really figured out that won't be possible.

He's seen some instances where various applications wouldn't install, but he's been in and out of the Windows desktop enough over the years that he's used to installation problems and how to overcome them. Kevin still has no clue he'll never be able to run his software.

That will be a painful discovery that takes place later tonight and tomorrow.

Blissfully unaware of his impending frustration, Kevin happily downloads the Steam installer. It takes a little longer than normal, because he still can't seem to get Chrome to work, which means he's forgotten that Steam comes from, not just, but in a minute or two, he does a Google search and he's back on track.

Steam's installer is downloaded, but after a clicking it, he's getting no joy. Figuring he got a corrupted download, he deletes the installer, and downloads it again. Still no joy.

Kevin hasn't quite figured out how to do a full restart on the Microsoft Surface RT, but he finds one of the little "Charms" in the Metro interface, pokes around for a little while, and eventually restarts the machine. After all, with Windows, if something doesn't work, restart.

Kevin is back in the tile interface now that the machine has restarted. He's quickly learned how to drop into the desktop and so he's in the desktop, once again trying to launch Steam. It's still not working.

This time, Kevin reads the smaller print under the "This app can't run on your PC" message. It says "To find apps for this PC, open the Windows Store." Well, Kevin isn't looking for apps. He's trying to get Steam to run.

In Kevin's mind, apps are the little accessory things in the tiles, and he's trying to run a regular Windows program (which, to him, is clearly a different thing). He's got plenty of apps on his phone, and he knows the new tablet also supports apps in the tiles, which he is looking forward to playing with. But he bought this Windows tablet mostly to run Windows programs. That's why he was so thrilled to see the Windows desktop on the tablet.

Kevin still doesn't realize that the Windows RT environment won't let him run any of his favorite software or any desktop applications other than what came pre-installed on the tablet. He still thinks he's running into a one of the many install problems he's encountered in Windows over the years, and he's still trying to find a fix.

Kevin can't remember the URL for the forums he goes to for Steam support, so he puts aside the Microsoft Surface RT, fires up his trusty Windows 7 laptop, launches Chrome, and logs into his favorite support forum. Weirdly enough, he's finding people saying Steam won't run on Windows RT.

This is disturbing. He starts to Google "Windows RT" and is finding all sorts of tech articles. There are some glowing reviews of the Surface RT , some curmudgeonly whining about the lack of a Windows 8 Start menu , and even some annoyed-looking bearded dude saying that you can't run Office apps in the office .

It's now 11pm, and Kevin has gotten more and more upset. He can't tell who's lying. The sales reps swore Kevin would be able to run his software, but these online geeks keep saying he can't. But he's got to be up at six the next morning, so it's time for bed. He'll deal with this tomorrow.

Next up: Day 3, wherein it all goes off the rails...

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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