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 is back on the phone to the Microsoft Store. He's trying to get some answers. He speaks to a rep, who tells him, "I honestly can't say there's much a difference at all when it comes to a regular computer user. For an average user the differences between the pro and RT are slim."

This raises another red flag. "What," Kevin asks, "is pro?"

The sales rep tells him that "pro" means the Surface Pro, which will be out sometime next year and will run full Windows 8 for Intel.

Now, Kevin is starting to freak out. "What," he asks, "Do you mean by 'full' Windows 8 for Intel? Isn't that what I just bought?"

"Oh, no," the rep replies. "You have Windows RT. Only mobile apps would run on Windows RT."

By this point, Kevin is nearly enraged. It doesn't make sense. He bought a product from Microsoft that looks like Windows 8 and has Office, has a Windows 8 desktop, but won't run Windows applications -- and yet, he was told it would.

He's spent almost three days (and nights) trying to get things to work, he's out more than $800, and not only can't he get the programs he wants to run to run, he's also apparently not allowed to use the machine for work.

What? The? Frak?

Kevin calms down enough to tell the sales rep that he's going to come back to the store later today to return the machine. Kevin wants to know how to securely erase the machine, so the work documents he installed on the machine are no longer stored on the machine.

UPDATE: After publishing this article, a Microsoft spokesperson reached out to me regarding return policy. Although I believe the wording could still be misinterpreted, I've been assured that Microsoft will, in fact, accept returns even if the Surface RT package has been opened. Here are the details:

See Also: Microsoft says returns okay on opened Surface RT product packaging

I've added strikethroughs on the sections below where the policy has been clarified and, therefore, the returnability concern portrayed in this story is no longer an issue. Big thanks to Microsoft for stepping up with an honorable answer.

The rep tells Kevin that a support person will have to answer his question about securely erasing the machine, and that Kevin can make an appointment to see a support person in the store. But the rep also tells Kevin that since he's opened up his computer's packaging, it's not something he can return.

The rep points Kevin to the Microsoft Store return policy and quotes the return policy for hardware, including computers and Xbox:

Returns and exchanges of computers, computer hardware items (including mice, keyboards, and printers), and other hardware items (including Xbox 360 consoles and controllers, Zune players, and accessories), will be honored for thirty (30) days from the date of purchase, provided the item has not been opened or altered from its original state and does not show wear or damage.

By now, Kevin's worked up a full head of steam. It's probably good that he's calling on the phone, because he's just been told he's spent more than $800 for a computer that won't do what he wants it to do, what he'd been told it would do -- and he can't get his money back.


The day passes, but slowly. Kevin has growled and been surly to everyone in the office, because he's been so upset about his purchase. He was even more upset that the rep told him he couldn't return the device.

It took most of the day, but Kevin has finally calmed down. Kevin is a very capable negotiator and he knows that most things will go his way if he just takes them slow and stays calm.

He's decided to go to the Microsoft Store and talk with the people there, in person. After about an hour waiting for the manager to be freed up, and another 45 minutes arguing his case, the store waives the return policy, and Kevin finally gets a full refund for the Surface RT.

There was no tech available to help him securely erase the tablet, so Kevin had to give up on fully clearing the storage on the RT. He decided that while the work documents he had on the machine were confidential, nobody would really find much use in them, and besides, he wanted his money back on the tablet, and that was more important.

Kevin leaves the store stressed out, but satisfied. The whole Surface RT experience was a huge letdown for him, but he feels he was eventually treated fairly, and he got his money back.

Kevin has decided to take Barbara's advice from lunch the other day. He is going to buy an iPad. After all, while it also won't run Windows, it's got hundreds of thousands of apps. Kevin can't play his Steam games, but he's heard Angry Birds is pretty good.

Next up: lessons learned...

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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