Windows Surface RT: Microsoft's greatest hardware fiasco ever?

Kin, Zune, and now Surface, Microsoft shows once more that as a hardware company it's a fine software business.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Windows Surface RT, like a certain coyote we all know, is destined for failure.

Ed Bott "enthusiastically recommends" the Windows Surface RT." I think it's already dead.

Oddly enough, we agree on the main point, "It’s more than an iPad, and less than a PC." Where we differ is what that means. He sees it putting RT Surface into a middle-ground. I see it as being neither fish nor fowl; it's not entertaining enough to replace a wildly popular tablet, nor work-friendly enough to replace a laptop.

That has far more to do with the software, Windows RT, than it does the hardware. Windows RT, Windows 8 for ARM, is both a confusing mess and crippleware.

To be exact, Windows RT is a limited version of Windows 8 that runs on ARM-based devices, not on traditional PCs. It is compatible with most, but not all, of the Metro-style apps that also run on Windows 8. Windows RT will not run any desktop Windows applications beyond the applications that are bundled with the operating system.

What are these bundled applications? They're the usual Windows built-ins such as Paint and WordPad, but for some reason Windows Media Player isn't included. It does include, however, Office Home & Student 2013 RT. Unfortunately Office RT comes with restrictions for office use. This suite includes Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint... but not Outlook. In short, it may look like a Windows 8 tablet, but it comes with even fewer applications than the Windows Phone.

You may think I'm just saying this because I favor Linux for the desktop and Android for tablets. Wrong. I'm saying it first because it's true and, as it happens, I'm paraphrasing Paul Thurrott. You may know him as the guy behind Paul Thurrott's Supersite for Windows, arguably the best Windows-specific Web site in the world.

There's more though. For example, you can indeed use Flash on Windows RT, but only on Microsoft approved sites with Internet Explorer 10.

Chrome? Firefox? Opera? What about them? You can't run them on RT. You can only run applications from Microsoft's Windows Store, they, and most other Windows programs, aren't to be found on its shelves.

Thinking about using Windows RT tablets on your business network? You can't do it. Windows RT doesn't support Active Directory (AD)

There's not even, and this one surprises me just as much as the lack of AD, a RT native client for Microsoft's cloud-storage service, SkyDrive. Just when everyone is building in cloud storage to their tablet and desktop offerings, Microsoft pulls back from what seems to me to be a perfectly natural and smart move.

That's all bad enough that I wouldn't give two-cents for Surface with Windows RT's future, but then there's the pricing and the timing. Those seal the Surface's fate.

The entry-level 32GB Surface, without a keyboard, costs $499. With its Touch Cover and Type Cover keyboards, which Bott "can’t imagine using this device without," add an additional $100 to $119 to the tab. The comparable and brand new and exciting iPad 4, without a keyboard, costs $599.

On the other hand, lots of business users have no trouble using the iPad for business without a keyboard. Indeed the entire BYOD (bring your own device) to business movement started because of the iPad. It will take a much bigger price advantage than the one Microsoft is offering to sweep iPad users to a Windows Surface RT.

But, I really don't know that the Surface was meant to be an iPad competitor. If indeed it's greatest value is with a keyboard then isn't it really a laptop competitor?

If that's the case, then why not buy a "real" Windows laptop? A Surface RT with Type Cover will cost you $628. Over on CNET, I found over 740 Windows laptops for that price and below. Now if you really want a revolutionary laptop, which comes with a free, no-restrictions office suite and an amazing price of $249 what you really want is the new Linux and ARM-powered Chromebook.

Here's the truth of the matter: the Surface RT isn't good enough, cheap enough, or nifty enough to matter in today's market. It's dead technology as it sits there. The Intel-powered Surface with Windows 8 will probably be better... but they'll cost even more and they won't be out for months yet.

With a new full-sized iPad on one front, a wave of 7-inch tablets on another, a new model of desktop computing led by the Chromebook on yet another front, and last, but by no means least, cheaper real Windows laptops everywhere, the Surface RT's only fate will be to end up with the Kin and Zune in Microsoft's hardware trashpile.

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