Okay, I know that everyone is dogging on the Microsoft Surface RT tablet these days. I knew Windows RT had its issues, but beyond some cursory playing around, I never really sat down and tried to use one until today. And let me tell you—it's bad. Really, really horribly awfully bad. Every few minutes I'm appalled by something else and saying out loud, "Are you kidding me? How could Microsoft release this piece of garbage?"
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You know we bought a Surface RT tablet back in October. Jack wrote a review of it right away, and Gabe's had it at his house since then. This week Gabe is visiting me in San Francisco as we pretend to do important work which prevents us from attending the TechTarget global sales meeting in Boston. He brought the Surface RT with him to hand off to me. I thought I would write today's blog post on it, but I couldn't. I literally couldn't use it to do work. So now I'm on my laptop writing this rant.
Before I begin though I just want to apologize to the world on behalf of America that we did this to you.
There is so much wrong with the Surface RT that I can't even decide what the worst part is. So let's just dig in...
Forced updates and reboots
Did you know that the "always up-to-date" stuff that Microsoft advertises means that the Surface can force you to reboot and update against your will? Sorry if you had work to do!
I was working on my article tonight when this screen pops up:
Mind you I didn't ask for these updates. I was just working, and it tells me that it's restarting in 15 minutes and it starts counting down. It tells me to save my work and it gives me options to "Restart" or "Close." I clicked "Close" since, you know, I'm trying to work.
Ten minutes later I get the same message saying that updates are going to happen in 5 minutes and that I should save my work. Of course I'm still working so I just clicked "close."
Do you know what happened 5 minutes later?
The machine kicked me off and just started updating! I didn't have a choice or a warning! I didn't realize that the "close" button before wasn't actually stopping the countdown!
On top of that, this update took 21 minutes! I had no choice. I'm using my tablet, being all modern and mobile, and the thing is like, "Hey! I'm going to make you stop working for 21 minutes right now. I hope you didn't have any deadlines or weren't running up to a meeting. F you!"
AND this whole time I was on battery!!! So it decides that it wants to update on its own without my ability to stop it, and it has the audacity to tell me to keep my PC plugged in? But it wasn't plugged in this whole time! What if I was running around in between appointments trying to get work done real fast?
Look, I understand that major firmware and OS updates need to happen. It's true of Windows, iOS, and Android. But with other OSes I have a choice. If I'm running around and don't have time to update, that's fine. With the Surface RT, I was forced to update, like it or not!
So that's a major, major fail. How can I depend on this thing when I'm running around if it can update whenever it wants?
Side-by-side tile modes and desktop modes are ridiculous
And then there's that whole problem of having the Tile interface mode and the desktop mode which are side-by-side and not at all related. It's like two OS virtual machines side-by-side. How are regular users supposed to understand what the hell is going on? Even worse is that Internet Explorer exists in both modes, yet the two versions are different. They don't even share bookmarks! So I can use Tile mode IE which is all nice and touchy, then maybe I want to use Word. I click on the Word tile and I'm flipped over to desktop mode to run Word. Now I want to go back to IE. Hey cool! There's an icon for IE on the bottom of the screen in the desktop mode taskbar. I click IE and it launched, but it's "different" IE. The menus are different and the URL bar is on the top. And I have no bookmarks. And my tabs aren't open anymore. WTF?
Sure, as a geek I understand that I'm now running desktop IE and not Touch IE, but how's a regular user supposed to know that? I set this thing down while running Word and came back later. I hit the power button to wake it up, logged in, and clicked the IE icon on the bar. Was I supposed to remember "Oh yeah last time I used this I was in desktop mode, so I have to remember that this IE is not the one I want. I have to switch back to Tile mode then launch IE."
Windows RT can't run any normal Windows programs
Everyone knows that since Windows RT runs on ARM processors that it can't run any of the bajillion existing Windows desktop applications. But if you get down to it, isn't that the whole point of Windows? I mean if I wanted an ARM-based touch tablet that couldn't run all my existing stuff, wouldn't I have just bought an iPad or Android by now?
What possible reason would someone want to buy a Windows tablet that can't run all their Windows programs? I'm guessing that Microsoft is banking on the strong "brand" of Windows to dupe buyers into buying this thing because it says Windows on it. But calling this "Windows RT" which is like Windows but not Windows is crazy. Even Microsoft's official "Help me choose" website doesn't say anything that regular people can understand. (I guess that's why they extended their return policy for Surface RT tablets when consumers found out they couldn't use their existing programs.)
Honestly the only reason anyone might buy one of these things is because it's "like an iPad with real Office." Except...
Even Office RT is not "real" Office
One of the biggest dirtiest meanest underreported facts about Windows RT is that the supposed "real" Office that it includes is not actually real Office. It's Office "RT," which is like real Office but with a bunch of features missing. (Features like, oh... I don't know... macros, add-ins, forms, VBA, and data models!) Seriously, isn't this all the reason why we need real Office and not Google Docs or Apple's suite or Office for iOS? How many people missed that little gem? Check out Microsoft's Office RT FAQs for awesome nuggets like, "To create a Data Model, use a version of Office other than Office Home & Student 2013 RT on a computer or tablet not powered by Windows RT."
Of course that pales in comparison to the fact that Office RT is the "Student and Home" edition which the EULA specifically says is "not for use in commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities." So that means that I (or my company) have to buy an Office 2013 Pro license or an Office 365 subscription just to use the lesser version of Office that comes with Windows RT. Seriously! You can't make this stuff up!!
I can't help but wonder if this is the reason that Microsoft is holding back on Office for iOS and Android. Do they think that the Windows play is stronger than the Office play?
Plus a million other little things...
On top of those major issues with Windows RT, there are a whole host of minor things. Like that fact that they use Office as a selling point yet it only comes with a "Preview" version of Office. Or the fact that Windows RT is just clunky. Performance in Office is terrible if you're doing anything beyond the basics. Placing graphics into Word documents feels like 1990s RDP. The virtual keyboard has a mind of its own if you detach the physical keyboard. The Rube Goldberg-esque kickstand/screen/keyboard combination is impossible to use on your laptop or an airplane tray. (Maybe that's why they call it the "Surface," because you need one to use this thing. Or maybe because it's a nice surface for setting your coffee cup.)
Even the screen is terrible compared to an iPad. This is not something I'd usually even care about except that Microsoft released all this marketing science babble about optics and how their screen had deeper something and was better than the iPad despite its lower resolution, yet after using an iPad and going to the surface you just think "How could Microsoft claim that this screen is better?" Put them side-by-side. It's not even close!
The Microsoft Surface RT is the worst of both worlds. It's the worst of a laptop combined with the worst of a tablet. Microsoft should be ashamed. It's no wonder HP, Samsung, and Lenovo are all not planning on releasing Windows RT tablets or are killing their products already.
(By the way, I'm looking forward to the Surface Pro and the other Intel-compatible tablets, ultrabooks, detachables, and convertibles. Windows 8 on Intel is fine. But Windows RT? Totally useless.)