Thursday, October 18, 2012

The reason I awoke the blog was that yesterday I pre-ordered the Microsoft Surface tablet and I wanted to explain why I think Windows RT is an important development and a potential competitor to Apple’s iPad AND to Windows 8 laptops and tablets. Yes, Microsoft is competing not just with Apple, but is also competing with itself. I think this is a good thing.

I chose the Surface tablet for a number of reasons, one of which is that it runs on the Tegra 3 processor from my former employer Nvidia. It’s not that Tegra 3 is perfect – it’s built in an older semiconductor process, uses an older ARM core (Cortex-A9), and its GPU is barely capable of supporting Windows 8/RT requirements – but Nvidia does know how to build Windows drivers like few other companies can. I also expect to see some well-optimized games.

The main reason I chose Microsoft’s Surface is that Microsoft is building it. It HAS to be the premier example of what a Windows RT tablet should be. I expect updates will be more stable and comprehensive when everyone in the company will have one (or so I’ve heard).

An exciting part of Windows RT is that it is a slimmed down version of Windows 8, without a lot of the legacy baggage the full version drags along. It’s a real reboot of the Microsoft OS legacy. The touch interface is new for Microsoft, so I expect it will evolve over the next few years, but it’s exciting to see touch become more ubiquitous.

 From a user point of view, I hope it becomes my trusty ultra-mobile companion that can perform work functions, and also entertain me. Its traveling companion will be either the Macbook Air, for more work-oriented requirements, or the Nexus 7 for personal travel. At 1.5lbs, it’s about the same weight as the original iPad, but it’s thinner and longer with a higher resolution display. It’s not third-gen iPad retina resolution, but then, what other tablet or PC offers that level of crazy-high screen resolution? Amazingly, it uses mostly open standards for I/Os: USB 2 and MicroSDXC cards. It offers users a method for memory expansion by plugging in a MicroSDXC card. How radical and useful is that! Why won’t Apple do the same? Unfortunately, it does require a proprietary dongle for VGA or HDMI, which I will probably get.

 With the USB connection, I can plug in PC peripherals and there might be a driver available (although not likely at first). But certainly I can connect a keyboard, a mouse, or even an Xbox controller (I’m not completely sure about the last one). And here’s another difference with the iPad – Windows RT supports native mouse control, while iOS does not. For Office applications, the touch screen may not be precise enough for some work and a mouse is best. With Bluetooth support, I can use a cheap wireless travel Bluetooth mouse.

I believe the price point is about right. At $499, the tablet is far cheaper than any Ultrabook, but it is still $200 more expensive than a netbook. Having used the Macbook Air, the advantages of an SSD in the Surface tablet is worth the extra bucks. The closest competition will be the other Windows RT tablets and the Clover Trail-based Windows 8 tablets. So far the Windows 8 tablets are generally $100+ more, and don’t include Office 2013 RT. The retail cost to buy Office for a Windows 8 tablet is ~$100 additional, although we could see some discount bundles. For companies with a corporate Office license, the Office 2013 RT may not be considered worth anything, but to a small business user, consumer, or student, it does bring value.

 I hope you can understand why I’m excited about Surface and Windows RT. I hope other are as well, and it does not turn into another ZuneHD where a superior piece of hardware was left to wither and die. I expect that within a year I will be regretting being an early adapter, because there will be better tablets, with better processors next year, but I also learn much by getting in early and who knows, this might be considered a seminal product years from now.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Well, after nearly two years, I'm back with some updates, I updated my devices and introduction. I hadn't updated EntroPC since I left Nvidia and joined The Linley Group. I guess Twitter and Facebook remain the enemy of blogging. But I focus on personal connection on Facebook and the 140 character limit of Twitter cuts short any long-form opinion. My reason for revisiting is that I just pre-ordered the Microsoft Surface tablet and I wanted to talk more about it. Stay tuned.