Microsoft Surface gets a positive response from this Windows developer

After seeing the latest information about Microsoft's new Surface tablet computers and also reading Joe Wilcox's latest article about them, I finally get Microsoft's mindset -- and I am impressed. So what does this Windows developer think of Surface? Need a tablet to appreciate what it is all about.

I don't have deep pockets, so I try to use my computers as long as possible, but after hearing about Windows 8, I knew I needed to get a tablet as soon as possible. Something big was afoot! Fortunately Microsoft made is easier for me when the Microsoft Store had an amazing deal on an ExoPC Windows tablet for only $399. I jumped on that deal, and I think it was the right one.

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When the Windows 8 Developers Preview was available, I quickly downloaded and installed it on a desktop and on my tablet. The tablet produced the better experience, and I appreciated Windows 8 from the start. The ExoPC has the requirements to fully support Windows 8, since unlike some other Windows tablets it has the minimum 1366 x 768 resolution required for the Snap functionality. The tablet also has a 64 gig SSD, so I could partition the drive and install Windows 8 side by side with Windows 7. This allowed me to easily compare the two.

Microsoft has long seen the value of mobile computing, but concepts like Tablet PC just never caught on. This did not mean the concept was wrong, but simply the necessary factors for success just weren't there yet. Apple's iPad really got things rolling and now the hardware for Windows has finally caught up to Microsoft's vision.

Across the Surface

So far I am impressed with what Microsoft promises with their Surface tablets. A couple factors I believe make a difference. First, the built in stand, which appears to be very solid, is a great idea. Second is the unique keyboards. Making them dual-purpose, as a cover for the tablet and keyboard, is a very good idea. Offering two different keyboards, one thin and light-weight for those who don't need to do a lot of heavy typing and the other for those who really need the ability to type as well as they do on their laptop is smart thinking.

I can see how the Windows RT and the Windows 8 Pro versions will likely target different markets. I imagine the RT version will be the less expensive of the two, so it likely will target consumers, while the Windows 8 Pro version will likely be for businesses.

Price is the Big Question

I am not interested in the Windows RT version, since I want a real Windows tablet capable of running current software. My biggest concern though is the price point for the Windows 8 Pro version. There is a lesson to be learned from the netbook, which grew in popularity as much because of price, if not more, than small size and form factor. Whether you are a consumer or a business user, price does make a difference. This can be seen by the success of the Amazon Kindle Fire. Price is the key to its success.

There are plenty of expensive alternatives for those who can afford them, but many people are simply looking for the best mobile experience that is most affordable. The Surface tablets are a great idea, but the price they sell for may be far more important than their specifications. Intel's StudyBook tablet, for example, is a great idea, but unless you can afford to buy them in bulk (like a large school) the price is also likely too high (for individuals). One company sells a version of the StudyBook for about $500, which is way too expensive for my tastes. Price is the main reason I purchased the ExoPC. The features were there, but the price was right.

Surface, Don't stop There

I also would like to see a 7-inch Surface tablet running Windows 8 (not just RT). But to make lower priced tablets a reality, some changes to Windows 8 could help. It is obvious to me as a developer that the Windows 8 Pro Surface tablet will be a bit on the expensive side, because it will have a quad-core CPU. More powerful CPUs not only cost more but they also consume more power.

One of the problems with Windows is how software is developed today. Suffice it to say, that a lot of software is bloated and slow. This is no reflection on the hardware, but how software is written. Herb Sutter in his talk, "Why C++?" discusses how software lacks performance today, and he suggests getting back to writing native code.

As a long-time native code developer myself, I can see the benefits of this. It is possible to write software for Windows that uses minimal resources and which executes very fast. To make lower-cost Surface tablets a reality, getting closer to the operating system makes a lot of sense, since it promotes a more "fast and fluid" experience, while allowing manufacturers to build tablets using less expensive parts.

Businesses want Tablets

Some have suggested that Microsoft is forgoing businesses in favor of consumers, with Windows 8. I have to believe that Microsoft is just as committed to its business customers, so the question arises, are businesses looking for ways to integrate tablets into their companies? Just look at the iPad, for example. There is little doubt that businesses are very interested in the iPad and some are finding ways to integrate them into their operations.

The Surface tablets have the potential for being successful in the workplace, but aside from features, price also may be critical. One of the problems with using any tablet in a business is the cost of developing software for them. If a company has to develop software separately for its desktop computers and its tablet computers, this produces added expense.

This is why the backward compatibility of Windows 8, with previous desktop versions of Windows, is so important. Building Metro apps exclusively may be more expensive, so some software needs to be developed for the desktop but with a more Metro-style so it blends well with Metro, while still being able to run on older computers running Windows Vista or Windows 7.

To be able to build an application that is intuitive, can run full screen and runs just as well on Windows Vista as Windows 8 is a great benefit for companies. This is one reason native coding has some advantages and should be promoted more, rather than less.

Now if businesses, especially the Enterprise, can buy affordable Windows 8 Surface tablets (and even from OEM partners their tablets) and be able to write intuitive software (which can tell whether touch is available) that runs well on legacy desktops, on current desktops and also runs well on a Windows 8 tablet with minimal hardware (so low cost), then Microsoft might see a significantly faster adoption of Windows tablets.

$200 Price Point

Of course many tablets will be in the $500 to $800 range, comparable to many laptops today, but the $200 price point is definitely worth working towards.

Imagine how businesses would jump to buy multitudes of $200 Windows 8 tablets. If a business could buy four $200 tablets instead of just one $800 tablet, likely they would adopt them more quickly. Of course there will also be a market for the more expensive tablets, but a low-cost alternative could make Surface a household name.

Many Form Factors

While I really like the idea of a small mobile computer, I don't think desktops will disappear anytime soon. Even a laptop keyboard can't compare to a quality desktop keyboard (I am still using a 20 year-old IBM Model M keyboard, one of the best ever built). A touchpad just can never replace a mouse for some applications. The ability to be able to easily upgrade a desktop with off-the-shelf parts is a big advantage, especially for a business.

Yet, tablets appear to be here to stay, so software developers need to find ways to be able to build software for both the desktop and tablet worlds. One thing is for sure. Windows has definitely been reimagined! New ways of computing are surfacing and likely more are to come. So far, Microsoft Surface gets a positive response from this Windows developer, but I am still waiting to see how they are priced.

Chris Boss is an advanced Windows API programmer and developer of 10 year-old EZGUI, which is now version 5. He owns The Computer Workshop, which opened for businesses in the late 1980s. He originally developed custom software for local businesses. Now he develops programming tools for use with the PowerBasic compiler.

17 Responses to Microsoft Surface gets a positive response from this Windows developer

  1. mshulman says:

    I think surface will be between $500-1000 and it will be a long time before we see a $200 windows 8 tablet.

    • chrisboss says:

      I was thinking of a low cost $200 (x86) tablet in the 7 or 6 inch size. The idea would be portability rather than power. It could be 1024 x 768 (snap won't work on this) resolution, with an Atom CPU, 16 gig SSD, 1 gig memory, expandable via SD cards or flash drives, just one USB port. If not possible for x86, then ARM and say $249 for x86. Using native code I could write 100 apps which all could fit on 1 gig of space on the drive. A 16 gig SSD would be plenty of space for Windows 8 and a bunch of native coded apps.

      Leave the Windows 8 Pro 10.6 inch screen Surface for those who need a power tablet. Likely it will sell for about $1000. Paul Thurott suggested it would be very unlikely to be less than $999 having an Core i5 CPU in it.

      • Adas Weber says:

        Chris, I have an Acer netbook with an Atom processor and 1GB RAM running Windows 8 CP and it actually runs very well, so I suspect that you are right in that a cheap tablet running an Atom processor would certainly be feasable, because I know that performance would still be acceptable.

      • skruis says:

        Yea, I doubt we'll see a Surface device hit that price range but that doesn't mean another OEM won't try.

      • Shirondale Kelley says:

        I like that idea, but wouldn't a C or E-Series APU actually be more beneficial? The processing power is similar but the gpu would be much more beefier in comparison to anything included with an Atom in the same price range.

      • RCS_hkt says:

        I have a hard time thinking of a 10.6" screen as being a "power tablet"   (as I sit here working on my desktop with dual 24" displays).  Even as a Win 8 tablet, I would like to see at least 13" display if I expect to use it for productive work rather than just as a portable display device and media viewer.
        I have tried using spreadsheets and design software on my iPad and it really is only for emergencies, not for core work.   Just too much zooming and scrolling involved, even if you have a separate keyboard attached.

      • skruis says:

        @betanews-5fc2797e9ce3f81fbced6f665805b532:disqus  I don't know how feasible it is for you but when I'm expecting to work from my Slate at a client, I usually take a 14" USB powered display (Toshiba) with me.  It's light, not very big, comes with a case, runs at 1366x768 (I think) and can be powered off a single USB port (at least it is on my Series 7 Slate).  I know it's not a great solution to drag around another display but there are some distinct advantages to having multiple displays with you wherever you go.

  2. chrisboss says:

    One thing I forgot to mention is about the wider than usual screen. I believe I read somewhere that it will be 16:9 ratio which is wider than many wide screen displays. This will actually be quite useful beyond watching videos. If the screen is HD and 16:9 likely it will be at least 1920 x 1080 (x86 version). Where this really comes in handy is the Windows 9 Snap functionality, where you can have side by side apps (two metro apps or one Metro and the desktop). Snap uses about 25% of the screen for the smaller side of Snap, which means you could have a Metro app running in a 480 x 1080 area and then have a 1440 x 1080 area left over for the Desktop which is a nice 4:3 ratio area. Since Metros apps scale really well, this could be very useful. Businesses may like this too, running a Metro app side by side with the desktop.

    • skruis says:

      Chriss, I believe snapped metro apps use 200px currently.  Not sure if that's accurate or going to be the standard when 8 is released but I'm pretty sure I remember reading that.  I use snap all the time with messaging, mail, music, etc.  It's a great companion for the desktop.  Also, I believe Surface Pro is 1080p.

  3. Aires_OFFICIAL says:

    "A couple factors I believe make a difference. First, the built in stand,
    which appears to be very solid, is a great idea. Second is the unique
    keyboards."

    Errrrr laptop?

  4. RCS_hkt says:

    I don't understand your insistence that you need a $200-250 price point for the full x86 tablet.   What then do you expect for the RT version ....$100?  The whole point of the 2 different models is that the RT version can be made at lower price and would be mainly used  as a media viewer, while the x86 version would be for running legacy apps and apps requiring more power (and presumably needing larger display size).  Any attempt to make one device do everything usually results in a device that can't do anything well. A major failure of netbooks for me was the small 10" display size and slow processor.  On legacy Win apps the menus take up half the display leaving little for useful work.  It would be even worse for legacy apps on a 7" tablet.  Why bother?  If you are talking about rewriting apps in native code just do it for RT if it is meant to be used on a small portable display.    Any complex app intended for desktop use is unlikely to scale properly to 7" and still be efficient for use .  If you want the RT app to be useable on a full desktop, I'm sure someone will code an emulator similar to Bluestack's Android emulator.

  5. J A says:

    "So far, Microsoft Surface gets a positive response from this Windows developer, but I am still waiting to see how they are priced."

    They surewon'tbe $200. The WinRT version will comewith MS Office 15 which is by itself $100 retail price. Ifconsumerscanpay $600 for the verylimited iPad, they willpay that and more for a muchmore useful Surface. Businesses who are stupid enough to waste money trying to integrate iPads into their workforce will certainly have the business case to adopt Surface instead which can be joined to their domains, apply group policies, provision, manage, and secure with enterprise servers while users can also access network resources, just a few things the iPad can only dream of. I work IT and even though we try to force the iPad at work, it justdoes not work and users just complain of how unproductive it gets them.

    If you saw the Windows Phone Summit today, you should know that Windows Phone 8 now shares the same NT Core as Windows 8/Surface, which essentially means that the 100,000 apps in the Marketplace for Windows Phones now run on Windows 8 and Surface. Meaning that there will be over 100,000 apps at launch for both WIndows 8/Surface and Windows Phone 8. Quantity and quality are two different things. If you want quantity, you need to go collect a bunch of the Kindle Fire and iPad and play Angry Birds and watch YouTube with your $200 cheap a** and leave the more feature-rich Surface for those who value being able to actually work and play.

    • Eric K. says:

      Agreed. I don't think there's any chance whatsoever that the Win8 tablet will be anywhere close to $200. I predict the low-end price will be around $500, and the later model will be upwards of $800 or more. And people will buy them. 

  6. BrandonMills says:

    Assuming all goes as planned, then WinRT is the future of Windows. If enough of the applications you need come out for Metro, most people are going to want the WinRT version. For the tablet form factor, I do think Metro is a great choice. It's always been the desktop with 30 inch monitors that worried me.

  7. chrisboss says:

    I didn't mean that the two Surface tablets displayed should sell for $200. Read my other comments ! It is obvious the x86 tablet targets the Enterprise, with a Core i5 CPU, HD display , etc. and it likely will sell for $1000. It is possible though to build a small x86 tablet, possibly 7 inch with specs similiar to a netbook in the $200 to $300 range and it would be worth it to develop a low cost solution too. Call it a Surface "mini" if you like. With Amazon targeting the $200 range there is an obvious market. One of the reasons all Windows tablets are so expensive today is that much of the software is bloated and slow and runs poorly on a low powered PC. It is possible though to build native code apps which require minimal resources which would run very well on a Surface "mini" as I suggest. Read Adas Weber's comment below and he mentions running Windows 8 on a Netbook with Atom CPU and 1 gig ram, so it can be done.  Even at $300, a low end 7 inch Windows 8 tablet would be a deal.

  8. ilok mic says:

    "A couple factors I believe make a difference. First, the built in stand,
    which appears to be very solid, is a great idea.

    second,it's very strongish product.
    Penta Group
    Penta 

  9. chrisboss says:

    Different form factors for different uses !
    Likely many who buy a tablet will also have a desktop and laptop as well. Each form factor would be used for different purposes. Personally I only write code on a desktop with a large monitor, but I also have a laptop and a tablet for when I am on the go (and for testing).
    A small 7 inch x86 Windows 8 tablet interests me a great deal. I can see all sorts of uses for it. My tablet has a 11.6 inch screenn, but weighs in at 2.09 pounds. I like the large screen, but it is not a portable as I would like. Now a 7 inch screen with 1024 x 768 resolution would really be nice. Very portable and light. I also can see many uses in business for both a 10 inch and 7 inch tablet. Imagine a construction worker with a leather pouch on his belt with a 7 inch tablet. A 7 inch screen is just big enough to do some work, but small enough and light enough to be truly portable like a smart phone.

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