Microsoft Surface RT Review, Part I: Philosophy

There are probably hundreds of reviews of the Microsoft Surface RT already out there.  Most of them are looking at it from a pretty broad angle, but no review takes place in a vacuum.  As an IT person working for a Bible translation organization, I am specifically interested in what this will mean for our work.  I am not new to tablet computing, but have already had an iPad for two and a half years and there are many obvious comparisons.

After only two months, the Surface RT has already become a normal part of my routine, almost completely replacing the iPad.  A couple of weeks ago I also upgraded my work laptop to Windows 8 Pro. Minus my phone, I am now living in a Windows 8 world.

Philosophy

This may seem like a strange topic to cover in a device review, but I believe it has major implications for not only how it is designed, but also how it is intended to be used and supported.

A year ago Ed Bott published a post looking at where Microsoft, Apple and Google get their money. As we are well aware, Microsoft is a software company and Apple is a hardware company.  Google on the other hand makes more than 95% of their revenue from advertising.  What does this mean for how their tablets are designed?

Microsoft has been in the computer operating system business for over 30 years.  They see the tablet as another computer, just in a different form factor.  Windows RT is not a new operating system, but rather a translation of Windows 8 onto ARM.  If you go to the desktop “app” you can open Windows Explorer and find the same file system.  As a computer, it is a stand alone device that does not expect to be connected to another computer, except through a network like other computers would interact.  The Surface RT is Microsoft’s first leap into the computer hardware business.  It is not really intended for massive sales, but rather as a standard for hardware partners to follow.  Microsoft has a standard for supporting their consumer operating systems for five years, and ten years for business.  Their support for Windows RT will be 4 1/2 years.

Apple sees the tablet as a third device, complementing your existing computer and phone.  Over the years they have developed iTunes as a hub to manage your devices.  When I purchased my iPad it had to be connected to a computer running iTunes in order to be activated before I could even use it.  Apple does have a genius for building new hardware and is rumored to now be working on wearable tech.  Don’t expect that to replace any of your devices though, it will probably just interface with your current ones. Apple makes its money from selling you the latest and greatest, not keeping your current computer going. After about two years, my iPad no longer gets software updates from Apple.  This did not surprise me as the same thing happened with my wife’s MacBook.

I don’t have much hands on experience with Google’s Android as I do not own one of those devices…yet.  Android is an open source operating system that Google provides to device manufactures for free.  The purpose of Android is to send you directly to Google’s services like search, email, and video.  There are two issues that cause me pause with Android.  First, because their revenue is almost entirely made from advertising, I worry about what type of data they are collecting on me.  Second, because each vendor makes changes to Android to make their product stand out, it has become heavily fragmented with devices that are only a few months old waiting for long periods of time before they get OS updates, if at all.  For this reason if I purchased an Android phone, it would probably be the Nexus 4 so I have a better chance of keeping it updated directly from Google.

 

Microsoft Surface RT Review

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