Microsoft Surface RT Review, Part III: Software

The first word that I could think of to describe Windows RT on the Surface, and still the best word that I have come up with is fluid.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the Windows 8 app design does not think in terms of screen size, but rather just flows off the edge of the screen.  If you don’t see what you are looking for, just swipe right to left and scroll until you find what you want.

One of the major complaints about Windows 8 is that it is not discoverable.  In other words, you cannot see all of your options, but have to learn to swipe in from the sides or the top to get various options.  This is true for the first day, then you realize that for settings you swipe in from the right, to change to another app you swipe from the left, and for additional options for the item you have selected (what would normally be on a right click menu) you swipe in from the top (if you are using a mouse and right click, it brings in the menu from the top as well).  The great thing about the settings swipe is that it gives the settings for both the current app and the OS.  At the top of the menu that comes in is the app settings, at the bottom are settings for network connection, power, sound, screen brightness/orientation, notifications, and keyboard.  I didn’t realize how accustomed to this I had become until I was on my iPhone and trying to change a setting on the calendar and couldn’t find it (several days later I realized it was under the settings app, not in the calendar app itself).

The integration between apps is much stronger than with the iPad.  Any app can advertise itself as the destination for the Share charm.  So if I am viewing a blog post in the reader app, I can share it with the Evernote app.  In iOS, the reader app would have to have functionality for Evernote built in.  Also, when I setup the Surface the first time, I tied it to my Microsoft account.  My Microsoft account is tied to my Facebook account and now my Skype account.  The contacts from all of those accounts now show up together in the People app, and things like birthdays for my contacts show up in the calendar app.  (Although this is great, I would caution against tying your accounts too closely together as it could be your undoing.)

As a computer, Windows RT allows for multiple users.  One of the greatest downsides to the iPad is that it assumes only one person is using it.  Windows RT also allows for restrictions to be put on children’s accounts.  Tying your Microsoft account to the local account on a Windows RT tablet and a Windows 8 computer allows you to share settings between them, including your app settings.  There is also native support for Skydrive so files can easily be shared as well.

The biggest down side to Windows RT right now is the lack of apps.  Slowly apps are being developed, but sadly many of them are subpar.  This is one of those chicken and egg issues.  In order to get more and better quality apps, Windows RT needs more market share, but in order for them to get more market share, they need more apps. There are a few bright spots to the app situation though.

First, the built-in apps that come with it are pretty good, something I cannot say for the iPad.  Along with many apps for news, finance, travel, sports, etc, Windows RT also comes with Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.  I did not realize that I was avoiding web browsing on Safari on the iPad until I started using Internet Explorer on the Surface (in case you think I am a Microsoft fanboy, I have been using Firefox and then Chrome on my laptop for at least the last seven years because I dislike IE).  Amazingly different experience.  I think the biggest difference is that IE is a multitasking browser.  On Safari when I switch tabs it stops loading the page I just left, and when I go back it reloads the page, something very frustrating on a slow internet connection that is metered.  If I have since lost my internet connection, I have lost the page.  IE seems to handle those situations much better.

Second, I think this situation will get better once Windows 8 becomes more prevalent.  Windows 8 apps can be written to target multiple platforms at once (note the supported processors on the dictionary app below).  I will cover this a little more in tomorrow’s post on ecosystems.

Microsoft Store

A major bonus for the Windows app store is the “try” button.  A developer can choose to give the user an option to try their full app for free.  After a period of time, I think 30 days, the app no longer works, but instead takes you to the Windows store to purchase it.

Microsoft definitely has some work to do on integrating the Windows 8 experience with the underlying operating system.  It is not uncommon to try to click on a link to change a setting and be taken to the old windows control panel on the desktop.  Although I appreciate being able to get to the desktop and the file system, it should never be necessary for a user to have to do that as a normal part of using the OS.


Microsoft Surface RT Review


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