Ok, so maybe it is not my first article on Microsoft Surface, but it is the first article that I am writing from one. A friend here was kind enough to loan me one for a few weeks, and even though my EliteBook is within arm’s reach I decided to spend my morning on this device exclusively… to get used to it and all.
The keyboard was the first challenge that I anticipated… the flat, waterproof keys reminded me at a glance of the chicklet keyboard of the Atari 400. How wrong I was… although the keyboard does take some getting used to, it is really quite friendly and easy to use. The missing function keys also struck me as a worry… I use the F-keys pretty regularly, and it did not take long for me to notice their absence. I expect that I am in the minority on this point though… IT Pros and Devs will miss them, but the vast majority of end users will likely not even notice that they are missing**. The responsiveness is another thing worried me (I noticed it as I was writing this paragraph). I seemed to be typing faster than the keyboard could send the keys to the screen. That however turned out to be not a problem with the Surface, but rather with the app that I am using to write.
**Edit Feb. 1: The top row of keys is indeed the function keys, but on the keyboard I have the numbers are not printed. As with many keyboards, you need to press the Fn key to shift to the Function, so Alt-Fn-Play is the same as Alt-F4.
Theresa Garvis, my lovely wife and very capable business manager, has been using her Surface since the end of October, and she has been loving it. When I discussed my concerns with the keyboard she assured me that she used the keyboard… but the truth is that she gets along without it just as easily. ‘I have used the on-screen keyboard without any problems, and it works great for me. The only reason I use the external keyboard is because it is there, and have never had any problem when I left it at home.’
The Surface RT does not have nearly the kind of horsepower that I need for my day to day computer use. However I am not your average computer user, and I expect that with 2 GB of RAM, a 1.3GHz NVIDEA TEGRA 3 Quad-Core CPU, and 32 GB of storage (a chunk of which is used for the OS) most end-users will be happy with it. My son Aaron started high school this year, and was eager to swap out his EliteBook for the Surface. He found that the only thing that he couldn’t do with his Surface was a school app that requires Flash Player… and I have not yet looked into a solution for this. In the meantime he is happy using one of the home computers for his French homework, and the rest of the time he sequesters himself in his room with his Surface.
The Surface is not intended to be a desktop/laptop replacement, but it could very well be that for many people. But what about the rest of us who absolutely need more power? What about those of us who need legacy apps? I personally immediately felt the missing link in the Office chain – no Outlook. In fact, this is a complaint I have heard from quite a number of people who have gone out and bought Surfaces… what do I do without my Outlook??
Outlook is not the only app that people are missing on the Surface (or, more accurately, on Windows RT) but it is a big one. Most of the functionality of Outlook that I use is actually available in Microsoft Mail, Calendar, and Contacts (all of which come standard with Windows RT). However let’s be honest… if you are used to Outlook there really isn’t a viable alternative.
So what do we do? On the one hand we have a really powerful tablet that runs Windows 8, and on the other we have a device that isn’t quite powerful enough for us. But what if we could harness the power of our desktop from the Surface? What if we could use all of our apps and resources of the great but heavy desktop that is always connected directly from Windows RT? Wouldn’t that be great?
We can… and in my next article I will show you how you can do it too, using a few simple tricks and some free tools.