Microsoft Bets There Will Be Touching Everywhere


I think Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror is right on with his recent take on the Microsoft Surface RT:

Surface is just like the first iPad in that it has all the flaws and rough edges you’d expect in a version one device. But it is also like the first iPad in that there is undeniably the core of something revelatory and transformative here – a vision of the future of computing that doesn’t sacrifice either keyboard or touch.

Reviewers think Surface is intended to be a tablet killer, but it isn’t. It’s a laptop killer. After living with the Surface RT for a few days now, I’m convinced that this form factor is the replacement and way forward for the stagnant laptop. I can’t even remember the last time I was this excited about a computer. The more I use it, the more I think that touch plus keyboard is the future of all laptops.

How wonderful it is to flip open the Surface and quickly type a 4 paragraph email response when I need to. How wonderful it is to browse the web and touch whatever I want to. And switching between the two modes of interaction – sometimes typing, sometimes touching – is completely natural. Remember when I talked about two-fisted computing, referring to the mouse and keyboard working in harmony? With Surface, I found that also applies to touch. In spades.

Microsoft is betting big here, probably the biggest since Windows 3.0.  The company has been trying to have a successful phone business for years now but adoption has been less than stellar.

This goes beyond using touch on the Surface devices, it extends to laptops as well. The release of Microsoft Surface RT and Windows 8 mark not simply a me-too tablet, but the marriage of old school Windows with a new touch interface and possibly marking the next step in the evolutionary scale of computing.

It’s been rumored for a while that Apple would combine Mac OSX and iOS to a single operating system that would give Apple the opportunity to create MacBooks and iMacs with touch interfaces.

Microsoft is the first to market with an operating system with the ability to combine the traditional laptop with a touch interface.  Intel is getting behind this and supporting PC manufacturers such as Acer, Toshiba, Lenovo, Asus and others to produce super light devices with hybrid tablet and laptop capabilities.  Scott Hanselman has a great post discussing his use of an Intel Ultrabook prototype with some follow-up in a second post and how it compares to the norm.

There is real innovation going on here but will users want to combine touch and typing in a laptop format?  I think so if the hardware is good and the UI responsive.

I see the Surface, unlike the iPad which is mainly a device for consuming content, an equally good creator of content.  I have tried many times to write a blog post or even a fairly length email on my iPad, but the process is difficult.  The keyboard under glass doesn’t do it for me as a touch typist so my speed and accuracy pay the price.

If Microsoft can continually drive innovation in the Surface and keep the PC hardware manufacturers producing really good hardware (read like Apple) they’ll have a nice 1-2 punch with their offering.  Software developers should feel compelled to take advantage of this and create great productive applications.  Everybody wins, but…Microsoft has to keep focused and listen to customers.

I just wonder how easy it will be to accept touching my laptop screen.  I always ask my daughter to keep her fingers off my MacBook Air screen when she’s pointing something out to me.  Hopefully the glass on these devices will mask fingerprints well during use like the way the iPad does.  Time will tell.

The Story Begins and Ends the Same for Microsoft and Windows 8 Success

Steve ballmer microsoft surface

I’ll be the first to admit to being critical of Microsoft over the years.  I used to be heavily invested in their technology stack but became disenchanted when they consistently seemed to keep changing direction, dragging developers along for what was often an unpleasant ride.   

I think Microsoft has a real chance here with Windows 8 and their Surface devices to be a competitive presence in this growing tablet and ultra book market..but only if they can play it well and I’m not convinced they can.

Seriously?  Windows RT

I am a pretty experienced developer with 20+ years of professional experience and have been using Windows since the original Windows 1.0 and before that with MS-DOS.  So, yeah..I know my way around the Windows world, but the marketing department needs to get their act together and unify the message.  I mean the name Windows RT, seriously, who was the clueless marketer who came up with this name?

One of the biggest challenges I faced when starting to look at the new Microsoft Windows OS and Surface devices was what all these seemingly interchangeable names meant.  Let see, we have:

  • Windows 8
  • Windows RT
  • WinRT
  • Surface
  • Surface Pro
These are confusion to an experienced technologist.  How is your grandmother going to know the difference?  Actually, she shouldn’t have to care.  The marketing message here is off to me, it should be devices running Windows.
Windows RT is a terrible name.  What does RT stand for?  I bet most people have no clue what it stand for, let alone that it is the operating system that runs on the new Surface tablets.  Did you know Windows 8 will run on the upcoming Surface Pro?  Did you know that your Windows 8 applications will run on the pro version of Surface but won’t run on the newly released Surface tablet running Windows RT?  Confusing eh? 
This leaves the mystery of WinRT which is the Windows Runtime that runs on both Windows 8 and Windows RT.  Clear isn’t it? Please clean up your marketing message, it means you can’t tell a good story.

Developers! Developers! Developers! 

I think most people familiar with this neanderthal-like rant by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer back a few years ago:

This video was pretty popular from the time where a sweaty Ballmer chanted about developers and how important they were to the company.  

I think this is as important today if not more so, but I’m not convinced the company is in line with this thinking today.  If I were running Microsoft I would make sure there was an easy and affordable way for developers to get their hand on a Surface tablet long before general consumers hand them in their hands.  Wny?  Well, one disadvantage Microsoft has over virtually all other tablet platforms is the lack of applications.  I know that Apple didn’t have to do this when the original iPad came out, they didn’t have to since there was no competition.  

Today is a different story though, with Apple and over 500,000 applications and there are more on Android.  Not all the apps for Apple and Android run on tablets but a large amount do.  Microsoft is the underdog gorilla in the fight here, they need to be more creative.

Microsoft should embrace developers and get the tools into our hands.  As someone who has iOS apps in the App Store, I know first-hand that its fine to test applications in a simulator but the real test comes on the hardware.  Microsoft should be getting hardware to interested developers for at least a nicely discounted price, let me know I’m important to you.  I would buy one for sure.

It’s the chicken and the egg problem; people won’t buy new hardware unless there’s apps, there won’t be apps until the hardware is in user’s hands.  Developers are taking a risk spending time to create apps that may never get used.  It would show great intentions and support if Microsoft help developers out with hardware, on a loaner basis, steeply discount or outright free.  I doubt the last one would happen but maybe for people who have an app they are bringing to market now.

Early Feedback

I’ve seen lots of feedback about Windows 8 and Windows RT on Surface.  I am not going to rehash anything that is written elsewhere other than to point out a few things worth checking out.

As someone who has seen the Surface tablet and work with it, David Pogue says the platform needs apps.

Mary Jo Foley has a great roundup of Surface reviews on her ZDNet blog.


Bottom line, this platform needs applications if anyone will purchase a Surface tablet.  Applications will not come without developers and Microsoft needs to open up their arms and coffers a bit and welcome developers loudly as they once did.

Windows 8 is the next iteration of Windows, the upgraded Windows 7.  The user interface is new and a bit confusing, developers need to be writing more apps to fill the Windows Store with the applications users expect on any platform today; Twitter and Facebook clients, Instapaper and all the great apps on Mac and Android.  This will level the playing field and where there is competition there is innovation.

The story still begins and ends with developers, developers, developers.