External Ethernet support coming to Microsoft Surface RTs

Official support for external Ethernet adapters for Surface RT tablets is coming, according to sources close to the company.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

From the "there's good news and bad news" department, here are a couple of updates about Microsoft's Surface RT.


Let's start with the bad. (Just because there's been so little bad news on the Surface RT front, as of late. Ahem.)

If you were one of those people who managed to get an Ethernet dongle working with your ARM-bsed Surface RT, you've probably since discovered that it no longer works. Ethernet adapters continue to work with the Intel-based Surface Pro. But on the Surface RT, you're out of luck.

Reader "Tonyman262" posted to a Microsoft forum about how he managed to get Ethernet adapters working with the Surface RT. He also noted that Pluggable, one of the adapter makers, was asked by Microsoft to remove the supporting Surface RT drivers.

So will Windows RT 8.1 fix this issue? After all, if the Surfaces RT is a "productivity tablet," as the Softies are now saying, shouldn't Ethernet connectivity be part of the platform?

Seemingly, no. Not only is there no current support, but there is no external Ethernet support in Windows RT 8.1 (at least in the preview), according to Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott.

I asked Microsoft whether external Ethernet support for Windows RT was in the works, and was told the company had nothing to say at this time.

However -- and here comes the good news -- dependable sources of mine close to Microsoft say external Ethernet support is, indeed, in the works for Surface RT. Right now there aren't any external Ethernet dongles that support Connected Standby, the Windows 8 feature that provides instant-on/off whenever network connections are available. But that supposedly is going to change, I hear, possibly as a result of work being done by Microsoft and its hardware partners.

I haven't heard a specific release date for external Ethernet support for Surface RT, but I wouldn't be surprised if an Ethernet dongle for Surface RT is one of the Surface "accessories" Microsoft is promising for its fiscal 2014, meaning some time between now and June 2014.

Before anyone asks: I don't know if/when Microsoft will enable LTE support in its Surface Pro or RT hardware. It's a possibility and frequently requested feature. 

Meanwhile, here's a little more good news for those in the education space who are interested in the Surface RT. I asked a Microsoft spokesperson about a recent Microsoft blog post that hinted that the company's educational offer, via which Surface RTs could be bought for $199 each by qualifying schools (not individual students), was being extended beyond the end of August 2013, to the end of September.

The reply:

"In June, we announced a one-time offer for Surface RT that starts at $199 for qualifying education institutions, valid for all K-12 and universities purchasing from Microsoft. Thanks to great customer interest, we are thrilled to share that this special offer to education institutions will continue until the end of September. Microsoft has a long tradition of supporting education institutions, and this offer is intended to get Surface in the hands of even more educators and students."

And in case you missed the news over the weekend, Microsoft is cutting Surface Pro prices by $100 in the U.S., Canada, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. That deal runs through the month of August.

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