A few thoughts about Windows 8 and the Surface Pro 3

I use Apple devices most of the time, but in recent months I had to use Windows 8.1 as well, both for my thesis and my job. The way I'm using Windows 8.1 is in a virtual machine on my 2013 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display. I also have a second MacBook Pro (an old one from 2008) that runs Windows 7 in Boot Camp).

Windows 8 can be a great OS and an incredibly frustrating one to work with. The positives are that it feels very lightweight and lean compared to Windows 7 and Vista; it has a fairly small footprint in terms of storage requirements and resource consumption; it's fairly secure; I actually like the Start Screen, but then I also like Launchpad in OS X; the flat design is visually pleasing and well-implemented.

The one thing that I can complain about, regularly drives me bonkers. It's a schizophrenic OS that doesn't really know what it wants to be:

  • I don't need touch screen-optimised gestures on a PC that doesn't have touch screen, they're hard to discover, hard to remember, and even harder to use with a mouse or a trackpad.
  • I hate that there are settings that can only be made in one part of the UI, while others things still have to be set in the Control Panel. I have a high tolerance for this kind of stupidity, but there are enough people I know that get so frustrated by this, they're afraid of changing any setting.
  • Oh and feature discoverability in general is pretty bad.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: Microsoft should've taken a page out of Apple's book and gone with Windows RT for tablets and Windows 8 for laptops and desktop PCs. Proper optimisation and strict UI requirements for Windows RT applications would've made this entire mess avoidable and would've benefitted not only the users but also Microsoft in the long run.
But unfortunately the c-level at Microsoft was too timid to let go of the past and backwards compatibility, too afraid of what their partners and businesses would say.

In Germany there's a word for what Microsoft was trying to accomplish with Windows 8: They tried to create an 'eierlegende Wollmilchsau'.
Loosely translated it means 'jack of all trades', strictly translated something like 'egg-laying wool-milk-pig', and we all know that those don't exist — or shouldn't exist, depending on your stance on genetic experimentation ;)

The Surface Pro 3

I'm actually excited about this device and I look forward to trying one. It won't get me to switch from my MacBook Pro with Retina Display and iPhone, but from everything I've seen and read so far, Microsoft managed to produce a device with exceptional build quality, listened to what users looked for in a Tablet PC, and improved on the already good Surface Pro 2.

I had the chance to try the Surface Pro 2 a couple of times and found it to be the single most enjoyable Windows 8 tablet to date (my points of comparison are tablets by ASUS, ACER, and HP) and it set the bar very high for third-party manufacturers.

I'd have no qualms recommending the Surface Pro 2 or the new Surface Pro 3 to someone who wants a Windows tablet. They're certainly better than anything by ASUS, ACER, HP, DELL, and the rest right now. The only exception to this is Lenovo; while they, too, produce a lot of crap, the Thinkpad T43x series of laptops and the Thinkpad X23x series of convertibles are genuinely good devices.

Alex Hoffmann @mangochutney