Scuttlebutt: Surface tablet with Windows Pro the favored flavor

Scuttlebutt: Surface tablet with Windows Pro the favored flavor

Summary: Since the announcement of the Surface tablets by Microsoft I have spent hours in conversations with folks interested in them. Surprisingly, few plan on getting the Windows RT version, which is the mobile version of Windows 8.

MSFT Surface tablet

Microsoft has accomplished something few thought it was capable of doing with the unveiling of the two Surface tablets running Windows 8. The folks in Redmond have shown a compelling design for tablets, and in two versions to appeal to everyone. While few non-techies are aware of the upcoming Surface tablets, those I have spoken with who are anxious to see the Surface are overwhelmingly behind the Pro version.

Windows 8 is written from the ground up to work on any type of computer, with a special focus on the popular tablet form. The Metro interface is a touch-optimized UI aimed at getting Windows onto tablets of all types.

The Surface tablets from Microsoft will come in two versions, one running Windows RT and the other Windows 8 (Pro). The RT version is the one for the ARM platform, the mobile computing platform running many tablets on the market. It is the full mobile version of Windows that will use Metro apps purchased from the Microsoft app store.

The other Surface tablet will run full Windows 8 and will be Intel-based. This version of Windows is capable of running both Metro apps and legacy apps, similar to current Tablet PCs in function. It will run on tablets the same as it does on desktops and laptops, with touch control thrown into the mix.

The Pro version of the Surface tablet is overwhelmingly the version that most folks I have discussed them with plan to buy. This surprises me somewhat, as it indicates that these folks are willing to pay quite a bit more for a tablet than those going the RT route.

Microsoft has stated the RT version of the Surface tablet will be price competitive with other tablets, which implies a $500 range. It also mentioned that the Pro version of Surface will compete in price with Ultrabooks, which implies a premium of hundreds of dollars over the RT model.

The folks anxious for a Surface Pro, and I've corresponded with lots of them, think that full Windows is the way to go even in the tablet form factor. They are willing to pay a big premium for that functionality, and in fact feel Windows RT is too restrictive for their needs.

It leads me to question how successful Windows RT may be, if most of the folks who want a Windows tablet don't like the mobile version. It also makes me wonder if Windows 8 on tablets will live up to the expectations of these people. Windows on tablets is nothing new, but few of those planning on getting a Surface Pro I have spoken with previously owned a Tablet PC.

I suppose the thinner form of the Surface appeals to many over the old, clumsy Tablet PC. That's a good thing, but it's going to come down to how good Windows 8 is on the slim tablet with external keyboard. The Surface Pro tablet is not going to be cheap by market standards, and buyers are going to be demanding in the functionality of the OS on the tablet.

The ability to run legacy apps is useful, but as we experienced with the Tablet PC if apps aren't written for the tablet (and few are) they aren't very good to use on a touch tablet. A lot of new Surface Pro buyers may run into this headfirst, and the reaction may be something Microsoft must deal with.

Windows has a natural fit for the enterprise, and the Surface Pro could be the desired flavor for that purpose. I'm pretty sure Microsoft really wants to crack into the mainstream consumer market, and the Surface RT would be the way to do that. Microsoft will have to figure out a message to downplay the ability to run legacy apps based on the people I speak to about the Surface.


Topics: Microsoft, Mobility, Tablets

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  • Why downplay the ability to run legacy apps?

    That's the whole advantage of the Surface Pro... The people that are getting excited about the Pro are the people that thus far haven't been happy with their tablet (or havent bought one) because they want to run full programs instead of apps. So why downplay the Surface's most significant advantage?
    • What has changed?

      Because the people who say that all have usernames that consist of random strings followed by numbers. In spite of which, they haven't bought a Windows tablet in the last ten years either. The ability to run legacy Windows apps on a tablet is not new. What it is, is a flop. Nobody buys the darned things.

      Now, all of a sudden, because Apple has sold a hundred million tablets that don't run legacy Windows apps, the people with usernames consisting of random strings followed by numbers insist that what everybody wants is a tablet that runs legacy Windows apps. That doesn't make any sense.
      Robert Hahn
      • Legacy apps don't run well by touch

        I was a Tablet PC MVP for 7 years, and I can tell you one reason the Tablet PC didn't do well was the terrible experience trying to run legacy apps not designed for tablets on such a beast.

        I'm not saying that will be the case with the Surface Pro, if you use a keyboard, but worth noting from actual experience.
        • Understatement

          I think that the "don't run well" attribute for the legacy Windows applications ability to be used with touch is a major understatement.

          Add this to the Surface 10.6" screen and you get a disastrous experience.
        • Not necessarily

          I've owned a touch based PC for years, and loved it. I had very few problems with legacy apps on mine (I used it mostly for Office 2010) - and yes, I used touch extensively. I was very disappointed when HP stopped making the TouchSmart laptops.
        • How long is the cycle?

          So it's reasonable to expect that if a company buys a dozen Surface tablets and hands them out to road warriors for a test drive, telling them "we got these because they run our line-of-business applications," that the road warriors will have poor experiences and they will want to go back to laptops.

          So then it becomes obvious to the IT departments that if tablets are going to succeed in their environment, they will have to spend beaucoup d'bucks making their in-house applications (and maybe even things like SAP) "touch friendly." Assuming they have nothing else to do, that's a year right there.

          It's the same thing with all the purchased Windows applications: they haven't been re-written for touch because Windows tablets haven't sold, and Windows tablets haven't sold because the apps weren't re-written for touch. It could be years before that chicken-and-egg dilemma resolves itself. In the meantime, the employees needing mobile computing stay with laptops. (I am personally inclined to believe that most companies will be unwilling to pay a premium for the average road warrior to have an Ultrabook or a Surface when a $500 laptop will get the job done).
          Robert Hahn
          • The one thing in Microsoft's favor this time is...

            ... that MS is actively pushing for touch-based software. Just as OS X was Apple's shift from legacy to modern OS back in '01, Metro is Microsoft's shift to a new OS. As such, "Desktop" is more like Apple's "Classic" that let users continue to run their old software while developers re-wrote their applications to take advantage of the newer. Now, Microsoft hopes to leapfrog Apple by making their desktop OS Metro-based before Apple can finish its slower but more co-ordinated transformation.

            As such, we've already seen that there will be strong resistance to Metro at first. Techies, specifically, have expressed a greater than 50% dislike of Metro and I can promise that a high ratio of people reading this blog are going to resist Metro. What should be a fairly smooth transition as such will become jerky and erratic. The problem is, Microsoft doesn't have the time to take a slower, more sensible path to touch, they need to get it running NOW just to keep from irrelevance as touch shoots past them. Microsoft tried 11 years ago to lead the charge, but the users and developers were simply too comfortable in the old pool and couldn't see the world passing them by.
      • What?

        You completely twisted my post. I didn't say that "everyone" wants a windows tablet. I specifically said that the people that aren't happy with their tablet or haven't bought one are the ones that probably want a Surface pro. That's not everyone. Plenty of people love their tablet, but there is also a segment that either isn't completely happy with their current tablet, or has not bought one because it doesn't suit their needs. The Surface Pro will fill at least part of that gap, because one of the main complaints that many fire at the tablet in general is that it's a "toy", and won't run the programs they need. The Pro will run all your desktop programs, so those that have been critical of tablets as toys suddenly don't have that barrier.

        The surface is not the same as the old windows tablets. Taking a look at Windows 8, you can see that Metro should be pretty well suited to touch whereas old versions of windows were not suited to it at all. The fact that it's made by microsoft will also make a difference. Just like Apple can be completely certain that their OS will run on their selected hardware configuration, so can Microsoft now. With this device, they won't need to worry about shoddy drivers from 3rd parties, or supporting hundreds of hardware configurations from different manufacturers. That will be an issue with other Win8 tabs, but shouldn't be with the Surface. This is a new opportunity for Microsoft, and is not comparable to their old products. It may well flop, but it's a bit premature to label it a failure before it's even released.

        And the "random string" of letters are my initials...
        • What percentage care about real PC programs, 1%?

          "because one of the main complaints that many fire at the tablet in general is that it's a "toy", and won't run the programs they need."

          What percentage of the market is complaining it's a "toy" and that it's not running "programs they need"? How many are we talking about and is it a significant enough number to bring Success to the Surface?

          We've been hearing the same speech since Gates first introduced the Tablet PC in 2000-2001. Actually earlier than that, since the early 90's when Microsoft felt "the future of Windows" was threatened by all these Pen Computing Slate/devices that was popping up and they needed an answer. What was their answer then, yup full Windows PC with Pen capabilities bolted on top (again). This is going to be Microsoft's third attempt in trying to convince consumers they need to run "real" programs and a "real PC" on a tablet form factor. Consumers have ignored them for two decades and counting now.

          I don't want to hear about the few die-hards that buys everything Microsoft, where are the proof that a significant enough consumers want to run "real" programs (Photoshop, Office, Premier, Autocad) on a Slate form factor with a 10" screen?
          • It's not MS Diehards... its us SMBs


            You are right that MS is in trouble, and it isn't just Die-Hards (I don't know if I have ever met any Windows Die-hards... not like the Apple die-hards I've met anyway.)

            I suspect the holdouts (I think that fits better than "die-hards") are a larger group that the 1% you mention... and it includes a significant number of SMBs (Small to Medium Businesses) who have traditionally relied upon PC's and often have proprietary software that only runs on PC's... such as point-of-sale, timeclock software, accounting software, etc.

            I personally am a member of this group, and It's not that I WANT to stick with Windows, but that I can't afford not to... yet. I would love to justify the purchase of an iPad, but until I can do everything I need to do, I'm in limbo. With a notebook (and presumably with a Surface Pro), I can VPN into our server, run PC-based timeclock software to fix employee mistakes (which always seem to happen when I'm out of the office), run any of a bazillion file sync programs to keep needed files synchronized, access our point-of-sale server, etc.

            I know there are iOS versions of all of these things, but not for the exact ones we already own. We can't afford to throw out software we've spent years using in favor of new stuff just so it will work on the latest hardware, when 5 years from now, the hardware might be different again. Say what you want about PC's, they're pretty much a 10 year or more investment in our business. My latest computer is a Windows 7 intel core i7 on my desk, but I also have a fleet of XP Pro machinesof different specs, and even one old Windows 2000 PC running on an 8 gig hard drive with probably 256k of memory and a processor so slow I don't want to talk about it.

            I definitely am looking at all new purchases through lenses that do not bode well for Microsoft... asking questions about new software such as:
            "Is it Cloud-Based so we don't have to maintain a server ouselves?"
            "Can we shift toward paperless to save time and resources?"
            "Is it cross-platform? (think: BYOD)"
            "Is it mobile (smartphone) friendly?"
            "Is it OS dependant? (whether that be Windows, iOS, Linux, Android, or whatever... think SAAS)

            The less dependant I am on local servers and proprietary software, the more free I am to choose my next device based more upon the total user experience than whether or not it will handle one particular piece of software.

            If MS wants to play with the big boys (in mobile/tablet world) then they have to produce a better overall user experience, because their base is definitely eroding.
            Jeff Wheatley
  • Sampling bias

    The problem with talking to techie geeks about which Surface tablet *they* would want is that they are not representative of the masses of consumers. Engineer types don't ever want their power limited, so sure, they may gravitate to the x86 Surface. But the masses, who do mostly web browsing and e-mail, are far more likely to able to get everything they want from the RT version.
    • True, if they get the message

      Techies are the only ones who currently know anything about the Surface. For regular folks to pick up Surface RT, MSFT will have to get them a good message, as stated in the article.
      • If History is any indication

        If history is any indication, Microsoft's willingness to stay the course to make this a success is in question (Zune HD anyone).
        • lol

          no really, rotflol...funny.

          You really believe MS is going to give up their corporate presence, their ability to keep the standard productivity suite for another generation?

          You are hilarious!

          They just built hardware to compete...zune/ipods are toys, the rest is business.
          • How many people are saying tablets are 'toys'.

            How is Microsoft any different for creating a 'toy' tablet? I'll promise you now that the most popular Surface will be the RT, not the Win8. If that becomes true, then you can pretty well expect the Win8 tablet to die until Metro becomes far, far more popular on the desktop.
  • Not all that surprising

    Folks that are interested in the RT use case already have an iPad or Android device.

    The selling point for Windows 8 will be the legacy apps and the ability to plug it in and have a full desktop. Using regular apps isn't a great experience, but if most of the content creation occurs while docked and legacy apps are only finger-prodded occasionally then it is not nearly as problematic.

    Having a hybrid of touch-friendly apps combined with the bonus of 'full' non-touch friendly apps when needed is very useful. For some crowds a good pen digitizer with full Photoshop for example would be great.

    The old tablet model suffered from more than just lack of touch-friendly apps. They were also too big, too heavy, too battery-sucking, and way too expensive. They are solving, or close to solving most of those now.
  • Interested to see the price difference between the Pro and RT.

    If the RT is priced at say $499 (or below), and the Pro is $999, the RT will much more compelling of a buy then the Pro for casual users. However, if the price difference is less than $300, then spending a little more to get the Pro might be worth it. At this point, I am assuming the difference will be in the $400 to $500 range. If that is the case, I would probably buy the RT and update my laptop to Windows 8 Pro.
  • Windows RT

    I'm looking at the Windows RT version myself; primarily as a replacement for my beloved Galaxy Tab 10.1 (I love the tablet, but the OS is too buggy, and the browser constantly crashes).
  • Meanwhile...

    Microsoft is promoting the Windows RT version for enterprises at the WDC this week.

    And it all makes sense. Consider this:
    -The Windows RT tablets will be a lot cheaper than the Pro version.
    -Microsoft probably doesn't care much about the x86/x64 compatibility issue and they will promote the use of VDI to circumvent the problem.
    -Microsoft includes the Companion Device License (CDL) with Windows RT.
    -Companion devices running on iOS or Android will require the purchase of a separate CDL to access VDI services, thus increasing the real devices price.

    Even though many observers think Microsoft will attack the enterprise market next year with the Pro version, it really looks like the real battle will start earlier with much cheaper ARM soldiers.
    • Existing tablets do VDI very well

      Both Android tablets and the iPad do VDI nicely. I've used several apps on each platform for accessing both Windows and Macs. Surface/Windows RT is not needed to do that so if that's what MSFT is selling they better make a compelling case.