Windows 8 Pro on Microsoft's Surface: A usability nightmare

Windows 8 Pro on Microsoft's Surface: A usability nightmare

Summary: Potential buyers are eyeing the x86-powered Surface running Window 8 Pro over the ARM version running Windows RT for reasons of compatibility. But could this be too much to expect from a tablet?


Of the two flavors of Surface tablet that Microsoft announced last month, by far the most popular based on feedback from readers is the x86-powered version running Windows 8 Pro. This is what ZDNet's James Kendrick and I are both hearing.

When Microsoft made the surprise announcement that it was preparing to wade into the tablet market, onlookers were surprised that Redmond giant was willing to fire both barrels and unveil two different tablets. There an x86-powered version that runs Windows 8 Pro based around an unidentified Intel "Ivy Bridge" Core processor, and an ARM version running Windows RT based around an also unidentified ARM processor.

On the surface -- (pun intended) -- the two tablets look alike. Both have a 10.6-inch screen, with the x86 version running at full-HD (1080p) and the ARM version running at HD (720p). Both are thin, both are light. Both have an integrated kickstand, both have a complement of ports, including a full-sized USB 2.0 port on the ARM Surface, while the x86 Surface enjoys USB 3.0 support. Both support storage expansion through the use of micro-SD cards.

The biggest difference that will catch the eye of consumers will be the respective price tags of the devices.

Microsoft has said that they are "expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel ultrabook-class PC". This puts the ARM version in the $600 price bracket and the x86 in at around $1,000 -- give or take a few bucks.

Given that the x86 version will command a premium price tag, I'm somewhat surprised that this is the flavor that most people are interested in. However, when you quiz interested consumers about what draws them to the x86 flavor over the ARM version, one phrase keeps cropping up: "backward compatibility."

This should send some clear signals to the Redmonians.

First, and immediately most worrying for Microsoft, is that buyers -- lowly consumers and enterprise buyers alike -- are willing to pay a premium amounting to a few hundred dollars to avoid adopting the Windows RT platform and its reliance on Metro apps. If this is how things pan out across the board, it doesn't bode well for the long-term viability of the Windows RT platform, the Windows 8 Store, or the touch-based Metro user interface.

The second take away is that Surface owners are expecting the tablet to offer backward compatibility, not just for existing hardware and software, but also for intangibles such as workflow. (Yes, people want new, shiny things, but they want them to work exactly as the old stuff did.)

People want things to change, but at the same time they want things -- especially anything that created a learning curve or puts a speed bump in the way of workflow -- to stay the same. We're talking about you, the enterprise. 

Well, that's going to be a bit of a problem.

Not only has Microsoft's insistence on cobbling together the "Classic" and "Metro" user interfaces resulted in an absolutely repugnant user experience, but a tablet is hardly the place to start hoping that things will work the same as they do on a desktop or notebook system.

While I've no doubt that the Metro UI and Metro apps will work quite well on a 10.6-inch screen, the idea that legacy applications designed to be driven by a keyboard and mouse on systems with 17-inch+ displays are going to be pleasant to use on a tablet is, quite frankly, ludicrous.  

If you're looking to a tablet to offer any degree of backward compatibility, you're heading to buy the wrong thing. Turn around at the other bench at the Microsoft Store.

Unless you're already using a Windows-powered tablet -- and chances are you're not -- then what you're really looking to buy a notebook, or if you want portability, an ultrabook.  

And if you're truly looking for workflow backward compatibility, then you might just want to stick with Windows 7 for the foreseeable future.

Image source: Microsoft, CNET.

Topics: Microsoft, Mobile OS, Software, Tablets, Windows

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    BSODs, viruses, crashes, driver errors, lock-ups, spontaneous know, the traditional Windows user experience.


    Microsoft needs to stay in the PC era, their software lacks Post-PC quality.
    • wth

      Are you talking about? Windows 7 is very secure, fast, stable and user friendly. While its not very touch equipped, it doesn't need to be. Windows doesn't really belong on tablets, although if they do make a complimenting tablet edition it would be nice, but pushing full windows with backwards compatibility on a tablet is the wrong idea. Also Metro is a POS.
    • Stuck in computing world of a decade are we?

      None of that really applies to the Windows of today. Windows 7 is as likely to crash as OS X, which isn't exactly perfect either.
      • Yes, the Windows kernel is still not Unix.

        Actually, the problems I have been fighting since Windows 95 are all still present. It has gotten better mind you, but I am still replacing all my PCs for Macs. When Apple faced the idea that OS 9 and it's predecessors were crap, they decided enough was enough and went the Unix/BSD kernel route.

        They have profited handily because of that decision. If Microsoft could exercise the same wisdom, we might actually have a Windows OS that was worthy of current PC hardware. Apple did make the GUI central to the experience, but after they took up BSD as the underpinnings. New paint will not make ntoskrnl.exe any less of a dog.
        • new paint?

          You actually have no idea what you are talking about. I'm sure the source code you have from NT 4.0 for the kernel proves that it is same as todays?

          Please stop spreading crap.
          Christopher Chenoweth
        • 64bkit Macs

          Make sure you have all new Macs and no old ones if you want to upgrade to Mountain Lion

        • you realize

          That the kernel has been changed in almost every way from the oldschool NT kernel. Also NT is loosely based on Unix and its fundamentals, as Microsoft actually had an enterprise Unix at one time and abondoned it to build their own platform which grew into the NT based Windows of today.
          Apple didnt face any idea, what they did was move off of the POWER platform, and since they are not very skilled at writing code, they decided to RIPoff BSD/Unix and make it into the Mac OS of today. Apple's OS is a BSD variant without any of the things that make BSD attractive, such as security, and legendary reliability.
          • You are obviously clueless.

            @ Jimster480 - Apple, like Microsoft are where they are because they have people who can write good code and are the best in the business. Your bigotry is evident by your lack of understanding when it comes to the complexities of OS design.

            As we all know, Microsoft have been burdened with three donkeys. The first is backwards compatibility. Hence the ability to run something from 1982, not essential, but still possible.

            Second - they need to deal with the plethora of hardware that is out there. This is no mean feat, and they have done more than an admirable job.

            Finally the third reason, is that Microsoft are in transition and will have a hard time, dropping the corporate mentality. Not that they need to, but I think they should send out lots of socks to all the techie knobs out there, telling them to put it in their mouths and shut up till they have actually used it for some time.

            Apple for their part, are equally strange, but then the technology they make works the way I do. Microsoft happen to make technology that works the way others do.

            NUFF SAID.
        • NOOO!!!!

          For the love of all that's holy, we do NOT need to let Microsoft anywhere near the unix kernel.
          • Top Contributor

            Windows was a top contributor to the linux kernel in 2011:
            Drew Cross
      • orandy

        It is people like you who should be banned from writing on these boards - you are totally out of touch with reality. BTW, I hope you enjoy paying twice the price and getting less functionality for business use with your new platforms...
      • Really?

        I have been running windows 7 for Years and have Never seen it crash.I'm not saying it's impervious, but you are wrong to assume or portray that it's not a very stable OS.
    • You have got to be kidding...

      Go back to the 90's when those arguements held ANY stock.
    • Why the beef with Microsoft

      Geez, enough with the bashing. The Surface and Win 8 have been so best up before launch I am beginning to think there is a conspiracy here. Microsoft is a great company. Sure product issues have occurred, but that happens in EVERY business. Has Apple been perfect... let's see, alienating its core supporters dumping the core Mac OS for a Unix based OS...

      Now I will say Microsoft is taking a big chance on the new OS. Having toyed with it I have concerns. But we don't need the tech press telling us what to think. let us, the consumer, decide once the product is in our hands.

      Oh, one more thing. People want the Surface Pro and keyboard to replace their notebook computer and iPad combos. We want the best of both worlds and putting down the iPad for my notebook computer to do actual work stinks. Microsoft may have found a market that nobody else has entered yet....think about that for a while.
  • wow

    What trash.... RT probably won't sell as well, but people will buy pro, and people will develop metro apps, and it will get to a point where people will buy RT as it will have all the metro apps. Once the apps appear in numbers, pro will lose its advantage for none enterprise users.
    • And we all live happily ever after.

      That's a nice little fairy tale.
      • That's why we should thank Adrian for this article

        Don't listen to the shills and hypemeisters. Not everything is gonna be rosey posey out there.
    • I'm unconvinced

      The "Jupiter" /WinRT APIs are quite limited. The .NET profile is extremely shallow, and the direction they are pushing is for development to happen in .js and HTML5. Nobody is going to be writing Photoshop in these environments - even Microsoft is fudging by providing a desktop in Arm that can support Microsoft Office, which will not be a true WinRT/metro based app. Limitations in file system access and device access restrict these apps even further.

      I think it is safe to say that aside from weather apps and angry birds, most serious Windows development will remain where it is.
      • Developers will be able to develop in ...

        ... .Net, C++, and HTML5. Therefore high performance apps are being written for Windows 8. In fact one of the big advantages of bringing the Windows 8 core to Windows Phone 8, is that C++ apps developed for Windows 8 will also be able to run on Windows Phone 8.
        P. Douglas
        • Hooray

          Yep, my bible study software Logos 4 hasn't made the jump across to Windows Phone 7 because of this very problem. They say WP7 uses C# and Logos didn't want to make a heavy investment in porting their application across.

          Looking forward to picking up a WP8 phone in 2013.