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

The Microsoft Surface team is providing some answers to questions about its process, its products and even a few hints about the future.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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