Why did Microsoft deliver Surface RT before Pro (and other pesky questions answered)

Why did Microsoft deliver Surface RT before Pro (and other pesky questions answered)

Summary: The Microsoft Surface team is providing some answers to questions about its process, its products and even a few hints about the future.


On February 6, the Microsoft Surface team took to Reddit to do its second AMA (Ask Me Anything) question and answer session about the Surface Pro.


Participants in the chat asked about everything from why Microsoft made the ARM-based Surface RT available months ahead of the Intel-based Surface Pro, to why the Surface Pros didn't end up using a lower-power Intel IvyBridge chip. Various members of the Surface team provided answers to a number of the questions.

The Softies told participants Microsoft is working on a fix for Windows 8 to help with display-resolution issues around the Desktop that some reviewers, including Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott, mentioned. And they hinted about the possibility of a keyboard with additional battery built in. They also said that Microsoft would make the Surface Pro available in retailers outside of just the U.S. and Canada "in the coming months."

I've pulled out a few of what I considered the more candid and interesting bits from the session and paraphrased the questions. The full AMA with the Surface team is here.

Q: Why was there a 3 month gap between the Surface RT and Surface Pro, especially given the fact the Surface Pro uses the higher-power Intel Ivybridge Core i5 and not the next-generation Haswell processor?

A: "This is simple. We started the Pro 3 months after we started Surface RT :-) That is exactly when we staffed the team to go and bring this product to life!"

Q: Why couldn't Microsoft have done something to get better battery life out of the Surface Pro, which is getting about half of the battery life (around four to five hours) of the Surface RT?

A: "This product is optimized in every way to take advantage of the full third generation core i5 it runs, yet give the best battery life. If you compare it to say a MacBook Air, you will quickly see that pound for pound in battery size vs battery life, you will find optimizations that puts Surface best in its class. That said we picked a smaller battery to be sure we were able to give you the same performance and to keep it thin. This kept the weight under 2lbs, and still kept it thin enough to take advantage of our great Windows work for inking and give you a great inking experience (like pressure sensitive inking, ability to do kanji, great sketching)."

Q: Surface Pro has a high resolution for a 10.6-inch screen, but it needs to be scaled to 150% to be usable on the desktop. Windows 8 doesn't allow for independent scaling between the Surface Pro and an external monitor when using an extended display option. Will Microsoft fix this in Windows 8?

A: "The Windows team is aggressively working on this feature to fix this for all high resolution Windows devices. We don’t have a date yet to share, so sorry. But in the meantime here are some things I do to maximize my external monitor experience.

  • I personally use 125% scaling.. and like that better for what I use Surface Pro for… see more things on the screen.. and the size of the text suits me just fine.
  • Next I make sure my Second Screen is set to Extended mode.
  • Then I adjust my Office apps using the built in zoom control (lower right of office apps) to set the desired text size. In Windows 8 the Desktop can be thrown on your second monitor and operate all your office apps... nice.
  • For Outlook if I have on my second monitor I switch Outlook into mouse mode.
  • Also in Outlook you can change your Zoom Setting in new message (compose window under zoom).. and it will also persist (which is nice).
  • In IE desktop.. same thing.. the zoom persists on the desktop.. And I use IE 10 desktop in desktop mode.. and the touch version of IE10 on my Surface modern screen.
  • You can also change the width of the cursor under Ease of Access.

Also… not a must but, if you use a high resolution external monitor it also help a lot."

Q: Why didn't Microsoft simply provide a USB flash drive with the disk recovery image on it in the Surface Pro box to free up more disk space in the product?

A: "We could have done this, but then there would be a chance it would be lost. We give you the ability to make one if you choose and free up the space.....

"There ha(ve) also been questions about why including the recovery image by default. Ideally, you will never need your recovery image, however this is a choice we would prefer the customer to make vs. having the customer need the recovery image not realizing they needed to create one themselves."

Q: Does Microsoft have any plans for an external battery or for a thicker keyboard cover that has an extra battery?

A: "That would require extending the design of the accessory spine to include some way to transfer higher current between the peripheral and the main battery. Which we did..."

Q: What are the new connectors on the bottom of the Surface Pro for?

A: "Wow - I'm pumped you caught that - we haven't announced what they are for but they aren't an accident! At launch we talked about the "accessory spine" and hinted at future peripherals that can click in and do more. Those connectors look like can carry more current than the pogo pins, don't they?"

Q: On the Surface Pro, is the boot loader unlocked so I can load other operating systems?

A: "Like other Windows 8 machines, you can access BIOS settings and turn off secure boot, enabling you to load other OSes."

The Surface Pro goes on sale as of February 9. Microsoft provided some Microsoft Stores and Best Buy stores with display Surface Pros as of February 3 so that users near those retail outlets can get some hands-on time with them. Microsoft decided against taking Surface pre-orders, but some retail outlets are providing those interested in buying with "reservation cards" for the devices.

Microsoft also provided some reviewers (and "non-reviewers," including me) with Surface Pros so we could try these systems ourselves.

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Microsoft, Tablets, PCs, Windows 8


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Great Info!

    Thanks Mary Jo!!

    John Mark Howell
    • Windows 8 and Surface .....

      ... I think, are winners. And the reason is very simple, every article that talks about Windows 8 or Surface is always followed by an interesting, but sometimes out of control arguments. Sometimes, you would wonder way Windows 8 and Surface haters join the debate. Are they fairing that their toy devices are under attack by shy Microsoft sales executives?

      The truth of the matter is that a new wave of computing is ignited by a Surface and no matter how many hate trolls follow each article about Surface, the reality is if you want to work while you are on the move, you need a real portable device, not a toy device. Sooner or letter, you would be loving the Metro style the same way that you loved the Start button.

      Metro or modern style , you have shown us another way of working with smart devices.
      • I'm waiting for Haswell chips

        They are the right mobile chips and only 7-8 months away. I have patience. :-)
        • CloverTrail and Ivy Bridge aren't good enough

          Haswell or Tamesh should give great power and battery life. Tamesh should have the better GPU though.
          Sim Lash
      • Great device, but loving metro?

        "Sooner or letter, you would be loving the Metro style the same way that you loved the Start button."

        I am definitely not a hater. I have the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro. Pretty similar to the Surface Pro, but bigger screen and laptop style keyboard.

        So I agree with most of your comments except the bit about loving the Metro style.
        Nothing wrong with big buttons. And nothing wrong with having a metro style option. But honestly I need a desktop where I can work with multiple open windows at the same time. Watch a video in one part. Cut from a Word document to drop into an Excel document. While reading a PDF with my Explorer available. Metro just restricts things too much. I imagine they will increase functionality of the metro style to make it a desktop with big buttons.
        But as for the device itself, seems wonderful and I love my Samsung. It has replaced my desktops except for gaming.
        • I agree.

          The hardware spec on Surface Pro is decent (other than horrible battery life,) but Metro is just too limiting for users who are accustomed to multitasking across numerous applications at once. Perhaps Windows 9 will address this major shortcoming. I hope so, because Windows 8 won't make it onto any of my own PCs. On the other hand, if I had to choose between an Ultrabook and a Surface Pro, I'd go Ultrabook and put Windows 7 on it. Surface Pro is a crossover, a half-step toward a real Windows machine from a tablet. It's too heavy and bulky to use as a tablet for any length of time and it's too cramped to use as a workhorse editing machine. Tablets are meant to complement desktops in a thin package which is no trouble to carry everywhere. The Surface Pro seems more like a cramped, clumsy, budget Ultrabook.

          I can't see myself ever loving the Metro interface. In my mind, it has the look and limitations of a Fisher-Price toy. It's unusable for the way I work and I don't want to take ten steps backward to work like simpletons who can only handle running two applications at once. Unless Windows 9 fixes the limitations, I'll probably use Windows 7 until it dies a horrible death and then look elsewhere for my next OS. That's sad because I've been a Windows user since version 1.0.
          • I've had 16 items open at the same time on My surface RT . . . . .

            What's that about multitasking?
          • Metro is more like...

            a fancy start menu than the whole of Windows 8. You access it the same way you access the start menu in windows 7 (using the win key), but its much better than the win7 start menu. You can start typing the name of your app, file, setting, or search for any of the integrated apps rather than clicking through pop up menus. Otherwise, once you pull it up, you have one-click access to the main applications you use (including desktop ones). Thats all the metro interface is. You still have the same desktop as in win 7, the only thing missing is the start button, which really isnt necessary.

            I wouldn't argue that Windows 8 is perfect. For one, I find it annoying when you click to play an audio file online and it pulls up a silly full screen app to play it. But as for the Metro interface, its an improvement.
          • The Start button is now an entire page

            And having it like that makes sense. Just change the default audio program to a small program like MPC.
            Sim Lash
          • What I miss the most...

            ...is the ability to "ALT-TAB" between open windows.
        • Sounds like you are

          jealous and afraid that Apple might eventually have 95% marketshare in an industry where Microsoft had 95% market share. Well, from someone that has used practically all versions of Microsoft OSs, Apple's OSs, and even other OSx like CP/M and various forms of Unix, I can tell you this. WIndows 8 is not doing that well, Microsoft just raised the price of Windows 8 to $120 and Windows 8 Pro to $200 and these Surface products aren't doing that well in the market place. I've been in the computer industry selling top brand names of hardware and software to corporate and government accounts with some of the biggest computer resellers in the industry. What's happening is that Microsoft is losing control to Apple and for many valid reasons. I can just tell you that, it's what is happening and from a former Windows user's perspective or a current Apple user's perspective. It's about time that Microsoft lost their stranglehold in the computer industry. I used to enjoy it when new PC products would come to market, just as I did when new Apple products came to market as i was a user of both. But over the year's, I've experienced first hand for myself and have seen countless horror stories of Windows users getting more and more frustrated with the platform and I'm glad Apple's getting the amount of business they are getting. I actually saw this coming to a certain extent the second Apple bought NeXT. I'm happy Apple is getting the success they are getting. BTW, I've owned Microsoft stock since the 1980's when it first became public, but got out around 2003 as I saw that it wasn't going to go up that Micorsoft's glory days were over. I bought some Apple stock in the early 2000's, but don't currently own and Apple stock, but right now, Apple stock is at a great price. So, currently I have no financial gain either way. I also have retired, so to speak, from selling computers for a living and during my tenure, I was a top producer, so I got out not by force, but by choice.

          If you want to call people that don't like Surface and/or Windows 8, that seems to be YOUR problem. If you don't like the iPad, that's YOUR problem. In many industries, including retail stores, restaurants, taxis, music production, video production, medical, education, and a vast number of other industries, the iPad is becoming widely successful and it is actually exciting to see how people are using them. The notion that it is just a slimmed down laptop and it's a toy is just being ignorant. did you know that they're using these things in a highly serious manner in which it makes sense to use the iPad? They are replacing expensive cash register systems, they are doing things that previously just weren't done before. It's exciting to see some of the products that are coming out and the new ways a computing device can do things that a typical PC laptop/desktop was too complicated.

          It's too bad you don't embrace what Apple's doing. Kind of a shame if you ask me. I think that Apple is NOT going anywhere and having this mindset that you think people like myself are trolls for not liking Windows 8 or Surface and thinking that the iPad is a toy is just being ignorant, immature and kind of shortsighted.

          From my perspective. The Surface RT is going to fail. I don't see Microsoft continuing that 3 years from now. I could be wrong, but I just don't see it. It's another Zune. The Surface Pro? Again, I wouldn't recommend it. I think it is a novelty product only a small group of people will use, and it actually might be detrimental to Microsoft's strategy in the long run. To me, if I were in need of a net computer, which is what this product reminds me of, I'd take a MacBookAir in 2 seconds over a Surface Pro.

          The whole concept of a touchscreen GUI for a laptop/desktop is just dumb. They way Microsoft has a Start screen doesn't make sense to me, at all. I typically leave my computer in a state where I am running multiple apps at the same time and when I'm not using it, it's in screen saver mode OR it is in sleep mode. But to constantly go back and forth to a Start screen? That makes NO sense whatsoever. Maybe you like it, that's fine, to me, it's like one of these full screen launcher apps that have come and gone before.

          Either way, it's too bad for you that you feel the way you do. Oh well. Enjoy your Surface running Windows 8. Maybe you can find some other people that like it as much as you do.
          • Too Long, Didn't Read

            Too Long, Didn't Read
            Burger Meister
          • Sorry but this blog wont allow pictures

            @Panwo1, What is wrong with you. Strangely enough you dis the previous poster for writing something that is too long and yet you take the time to write the same thing twice?????

            As I said in the subject line, are you the kind of person who wants everything spoon fed?
          • You got me

            How can I argue with your logic, It is bullet proof. By writing the same thing twice I did exactly the same thing that I accused the other poster of doing. You should teach me a lesson and don't read my posts. That will teach me a sorely needed lesson.

            Thank You for your cooperation in this delicate matter.
            Burger Meister
          • blah blah blah

            I will take a Surface Pro over an iPad any day. Or a Samsung Tab 2. Have 1 of each now, looking forward to the Surface!
          • Short and Simple

            iPad has a huge lead, and is succeeding in so many niche markets, simply because it doesn't (hasn't) had competition from the Windows side. That is why the haters are coming out so strongly, and writing novels, to shout down the competition. It's fear...
          • Apple has lost market share and over $100 Billion

            What huge lead does Apple have? They have about 4% of the desktop/laptop market; only about 20% of the global phone market; and they're starting to lose tablet market share to Android as well.

            Large companies are the last to adopt new OSes and many still use XP. The success of Win 8 depends on regular users and small businesses. Personally, I don't think Win 8 devices will start to sell well until OEMs bring Intel Haswell and AMD Tamesh devices to the market at $300 to $600. That means devices with 16 GB to 32 GB SSDs and 7" to 10.6" screens must be created for the masses.
            Sim Lash
          • Apple Fans Ignore What They Don't Want to Hear

            Takes all kinds to make the world fortunately or I'd never get a chance to use what I prefer. My experiences with Apple products have been technically horrendous. The product may look great but too many problems which Apple won't listen too. I've tried to main iMacs, PowerBook Pros and I'm just getting into a iPad.

            Guess I've got too much experience in the MS PC world but it is hard for me to work on something I can't fix myself even to change the MB battery (not allowed). I build my own machines or use refurbs which are mostly Compaqs/HP or Dells. Easy to service with pull-out parts. Don't try to fix an Apple device. My furnace or plumbing at home is easier.

            But if you like Apple thats fine with me. The only problem I have with Mac users is their superiority complex. Don't really want to discuss just dis PCs. And seem willing to pay hundreds more for approximately the same thing. Only their stuff stays the same until it no longer serves. My stuff gets upgraded and lasts longer and costs less.
      • Nonsense

        I will let you in on a secret. Most people use their mobile devices to play, not to work.
        And here is another secret. Those road warriors that actually do some work, most of that is updates and revisions.. Nobody is going to use the surface promo to type a 30 page document.
        • Chicken and egg

          Do you think that "people use their mobile devices to play" because the devices and form factors stopped serious work or that they were purposely designed to cater to that market and therefore sold to people who use devices that way?
          Just a question...
          Also, do you think a more business or multipurpose device will find it's own niche, or that it might end up encroaching on the, for want of a better phrase, "toy tablet" market, especially as new technology brings lower power consumption, higher computing power devices onstream?