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

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.

TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft


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


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Good article

    I have seen some snarky remarks about if you can't understand Windows 8, you're basically just stupid. This is an example of the real world, where most real people don't get into it and who aren't into tech like this audience. Expectations met with reality - and reality of price, will determine success of product.
    • agree except one thing

      the cure to M$ incompatibilities is not Apple but Android!
      LlNUX Geek
      • Oh Lord, more retards.

        Android isn't an answer to anything. Awful UI, Android tablets suck. 99% of the apps for Android tablets are blown up phone apps that suck.
        • Sorry, but android is the answer...

          Android works just fine at running-
          a browser
          Angry Birds

          which are the apps the majority of typical tablet users want to run at a fraction of the cost of an iPad or Surface tablet
          • Let me laugh

            lol Android is just crap ... A bad UI paradigm + Laggy UI even in Android 4.1 + App crash even on a doulbe Arm CPU with 1 Gb of Memory and Android 4.1.1

            Worst Mobile OS ever!!!
          • Android is the best mobile OS

            I'll put up my Transformer Pad Infinity with Jelly Bean against any tablet even Apple's 4th gen tablet. Will see which one can do more.

            The Android OS can do something iOS has never been able to do and which most people need to do real work easily.

            What is it? It's the standard cursor. iOS has never been compatible with mice, trackpads, or game controllers because of it. Yet, Android, has always had that function built-in. It's a joy to be able to use my tablet with a dockable keyboard that has a trackpad. And that joy only increases when I use my wireless game controller to play games on it.

            Try using a standard laptop without a trackpad or mouse. One word, frustration!
          • Wrong

            iOS handles mouse cursors just fine. A point I have to YOU specifically at least once, and that you continue to ignore, making you more than simply misinformed. It makes you a liar.
          • when it's you...

            saying it, you want people to take your word?
            Hmm. Can you say hypocrite?
          • Please dont comment on these sites

            You are obviously biased. I won't say stupid, just ignorant. I have a Google (Asus) Nexus 7 tablet. It simply rocks. Fast. Multi-User. Supports the Dolphin (best mobile) browser. It just works, and the interface is simple, but rich. Please dont comment about Android (especially 4.1) when you know very little about it. Oh, and by the way, I'm a 25 year software developer and the development framework and paradigm are much more enjoyable then Apple's Objective C. By the way, thats a programming language. You baffoon.
          • Agree, for the most part...

            While I too like Android (I have a phone and a tab), the only problem I face is the lack of a good - and I mean "good" - Office Suite. If this could somehow be dealt with, I'd be content. Also, since I am a heavy Gmail etc. user, Android works well. And, please Google Docs (as much as I like Google's other offerings) is not very good. I wonder if MS would release Office for Android. If yes, that would be worth spending money on.
          • run Windows legacy apps on RT

            You can actually run Windows legacy apps on RT by using software such as ThinServer

          • Not really!

            Thinserver doesn't run on the RT. It is possible that the thin client for it might. However, that is not the same as running the apps on the Surface because you have to connect to the server where the legacy apps are installed.
          • Sorry but even mainstream media is questioning android viability.

            Sure Android "Rocks" for open source techies, but by and large it is a horrible choice for the user this blog is about. Much worse than Windows Surface for sure.
          • Do iOS Apps crash more than Android Apps??

            Prasad Tiruvalluri
          • cc

            like Sara said I am surprised that any one able to make $6279 in four weeks on the computer. have you seen this site..WWW.Ace16.comTry it
          • what are you smoking Eric?

            Android 4.1 is smooth! It is lag, bug, and crash free!

            Just because you can say something doesn't make it true!
          • Boys and their toys

            Eric - obviously to you your tablet is only a toy to play on. There are many of us who want full functionality to work with but still have the light and easy portability of tablet. Is that the Surface RT? Not for me - I'm waiting for the Pro but for many people it will be exactly what they need.

            90% of the tablets I see being used are little more than babysitting devices - no matter what age the person using them is.

            You go ahead and keep your Android device, a full function tablet like the Surface Pro would be a waste for someone like you.
            Jena Walton
          • Android's "killer app"

            Angry Birds
          • iOS Killer App

            Apple Maps! It just might kill ya! Literally!
          • Are you claiming Google Maps does not have errors? Really?!?