Windows stack day three: The joy of Surface

Microsoft Surface Touch Cover 2

Microsoft Surface Touch Cover 2

It costs just NZ$10 more than the $120 Microsoft Surface Touch Cover 2 keyboard. Yet when it comes to productivity, the $130 Type Cover 2 is streets ahead – at least for me.

That’s because I’m a touch typist. I learnt to use a keyboard without looking at it. That means I can write far faster and more efficiently than using the hunt and peck approach. It’s also something I’ve done for the last 3o years, changing now is difficult.

Moving from the Touch Cover to the Type Cover makes a huge difference. With the Touch Cover the Surface 2 is just another tablet – with the ability to type a few characters on the flat slim keyboard. The Type Cover turns the Surface 2 into a laptop replacement.

Surface 2: almost a laptop

It can’t do everything a laptop can, but it can do the most important 90 percent. And that’s important. Suddenly my week in the Windows stack has changed in ways that I didn’t expect.

Above all, I barely need to use conventional Windows. I can efficiently deal with mail, social media and browsing all from the Surface 2 without skipping a beat. Writing – which is what I do most of the time – works fine on the Surface 2. More about that later.

Surface 2 has enough processing power to handle my immediate needs. There are times when I’m waiting for apps to load – some can take a minute or more to fire up. You can keep plenty of apps loaded in memory to avoid this.

Writing

On Tuesday I wrote a couple of stories from scratch using Microsoft Word on the Surface. I also wrote another couple directly into WordPress using the web-based full screen editor. Both work well.

Jumping into Windows desktop to use Word is a little irritating. It’s something I could get used to. Cutting and pasting text from Word into the WordPress editor is not as smooth as cutting and pasting between conventional Windows apps. Again, this is partly down to lack of practice. Moving between apps on the Surface isn’t so much tricky, as different. You can, but don’t normally, get to see two windows open at the same time.

I ran into three speed bumps. None of them serious.

First, if I get a mail invitation to an event in the Apple Mail app, I can click on the time details to send the information directly to the Calendar app. I kept trying to do this on the Surface before realising there is no such link between the apps.

The job is made harder because you have to continually switch back and forth from the Windows Mail app to the Calendar app to fill out the details. It’s clumsy in comparison. It isn’t a deal breaker. However, I incorrectly entered one invitation – something that’s less likely in the Apple stack.

Internet Explorer, better not foolproof

Second, Surface restricts you to Internet Explorer 11. You can’t install Chrome or Firefox. Again this isn’t a big problem most web sites seem to work fine. I ran into problems with a custom-made online content management system that struggled to display anything in IE.

I tried to get around this using an App called Mimic Browser. This ran the CMS fine, but the user interface is poorly designed. Normally I do an on page search for the button I need to enter my copy – there are thousands so scrolling and looking doesn’t work. Either Mimic Browser doesn’t allow on page searches, or I couldn’t find it. Using Search from the Charms bar didn’t work.

In the end I had to fire up Windows on the MacBook to perform this simple task.

Almost no need for a PC as well

With the exception of that one problem, the Surface 2 means I could almost do away with the laptop – at least for day to day working. This brings me to an important point, Apple sees a tablet as an adjunct device. The iPad doesn’t attempt to replace a laptop. Although for some people, perhaps the majority, it is all the computer they need.

Microsoft sees its tablet as a replacement for a laptop. When you see images of the Surface 2, it is rarely shown without the keyboard. Workers who don’t need big screens or tons of storage could go from three devices to two quite easily in the Windows world.

[digitl 2013]

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