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Microsoft's Surface gets cautious welcome in Times Square: Photos

Fans eager to get their hands on Microsoft's Surface have been streaming through the doors of the company's pop-up store in New York's Times Square, where the tablet seems to have been given a cautious thumbs-up.
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Topic: Microsoft
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There's a new spectacle in Times Square. Dodge the hot-dog stands, awe-struck tourists and over-sized cartoon characters, and you'll find Microsoft's pop-up store, set up on the corner of 46th street to mark the release of its Surface tablet.

The store, which began trading in the early hours of Friday morning, is one of more than 30 around the US, and it's part of Microsoft's big Windows 8 push.

There was about a five-minute wait to get into the shop when I arrived on Friday lunchtime, with the line comprising mostly patient Microsoft fans. The man next to me, a systems analyst, said he was keen to get his hands on the much-anticipated Surface, and thought it could be real contender in the enterprise. But he also said he was most looking forward to the Surface Pro, the Intel-based version that is expected to ship in January, because it will run all of his existing Windows apps.

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Staff in brightly coloured t-shirts (a nod to Surface's multi-coloured detachable keyboards) patrolled the store, giving demos to somewhat baffled visitors getting their first taste of Windows 8. In fact, it seemed there was a staff member for just about every customer.

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Above, customers get to grips with the Surface and its Touch Cover and Type Cover keyboards.

"This is the best tablet for me, because this gives the most Windows features," said Navendu Kumar, a software engineer, who'd got his hands on the device. "The keyboard is amazing - this is exactly what I was looking for," he added, before revealing he was going to buy both the Surface and the Surface Pro. "This is going to be my life."

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Another shopper, who said he worked in finance and asked not to be named, also had his eye on the Pro. "I have an iPad, but the most frustrating thing is you can't do work on it. If the Pro works like it's supposed to, then I don't need a laptop, and I don't need an iPad, I can do everything I need to do work-wise [on the Pro]," he said.

"The thing that pisses me off is that this feels a little half-baked, like they rushed it out for holiday. It's bizarre they came out with RT first. I think it's most important they get enterprise/office users first."

The man, who went on to admit he was a Microsoft shareholder, drew comparisons between the Surface and the first iPad, which looks "archaic" next to the iPad 3. "In a year I think that this [the Surface] will be much better. I'm impressed. When you're a shareholder, you expect the worst," he said.

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"It just seems a little bit buggy and slow, and it's not super responsive," said Eric, a software developer who admitted he wasn't looking to buy today, but that he'd been curious to see the tablet. "I've heard a lot about it and I just wanted to see it. It's different, it's really new, and it has the potential to be better than anything Microsoft's done before."

Eric had brought his iPad with him to compare, and pointed out the Surface's 16x9 screen made it awkward to use as an e-reader. He could foresee its use in some occupations, but doubted it would catch on in the enterprise. "If you work at a desk, I can't imagine you using this instead of a desktop computer," he said.

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I got a little alone time with the Surface myself, and as a Windows 8 novice, I'm not ashamed to admit I was all at sea with the interface, despite the best efforts of an attentive Microsoft staffer who assisted me. It felt like a blessed relief when, at one point in the demo, we switched back to the plain old Windows 7-style desktop. 

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It took Microsoft just a couple of weeks to build the Times Square pop-up store and train staff to show people Windows 8 on the tablet, Melinda George, the store manager told me.

The shop opened at midnight on Friday morning and is open 24 hours a day throughout the weekend, reverting to normal store hours next week. "It is crazy wonderful," George said. "It didn't die down after midnight, at 2am it was still packed with people."

When pressed on how many Surface tablets Microsoft had actually sold, George wasn't able to provide figures. "The shelves are looking really empty back there, I'm having to order more merchandise and shopping bags. People are buying multiple units and they're all buying them with the Touch Cover keyboards," she said.

And if you can't get to the pop-up this weekend, it looks like you'll have plenty of other opportunities - Microsoft isn't saying when it will close. "Consider it a holiday store - it's doing really, really well," George said.

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