Thursday, November 15, 2012

scratching the Surface...

I recently had a few days to play with a Microsoft Surface tablet...And...well...let's just say it won't be on my Christmas list.

Now, as the hardware goes, it's actually pretty nice. Good, solid feel. I like the metal. I like the kickstand. The magnetic snap-in keyboard-cover combo is pretty slick...but if I were picking one out for myself, I'd get the Type Cover instead of the Touch Cover; I can easily out-type the Touch Cover, and that's just not something I was expecting from a Windows device that appeared to have a regular keyboard. Nice, bright screen, but the aspect ratio is a little weird...fairly responsive touch panel...And the whole thing easily fits in the PadPocket of any of my numerous SCOTTEVEST jackets.

But then we get to the software. And that moves us a bit below the Surface. Now we're really talking about the next iteration of Windows.

You know, in moderation, I like the Metro tiles. Fundamentally, I can appreciate the guiding principles behind the design. And on the Windows phone, I think it works well. But on a larger interface, it can be a bit much. "Glanceable" information only works if you can take everything in with a glance...Look at Ambient Devices for a few good examples.

And hey, Windows 8 does include some good features...The easier migration, the click-to-reset option that preserves user data, deep integration of touch...all great ideas for a desktop operating system. But...I'd have rather seen such features added as utilities on the Windows 7 interface.

Many of us have worked with Windows Operating Systems for years; there are basic things we now expect. The search-and-run box, the program menu, the control panel, the ability to do almost everything from the command prompt...These were great, prominent features...and I know, for the most part, they're kinda in there...But they're buried deep.

Look, fundamentally, when my iPad or my Android isn't "enough" for the task at hand...which, for me, happens frequently...I go to my more powerful Windows system. The simplified interfaces of these consumer devices may be enough for a big population of the users, but there's still a decent crowd of us who want the Windows OS to be the complicated mess of arcane registry keys and hidden command line operations that have helped us draw the lines between casual computer users and hardcore computer geeks for the better part of the Information Age...That's why those of us in the latter category aren't replacing our Windows machines, we're just adding more devices to our arsenals.

When it comes to Windows OS upgrades, I'm historically an early adopter. I'm usually one of the people trying to figure out how to make a game run on the newer version of DirectX, or rebooting 118 times while trying to force in a compatibility shim for a productivity product that won't have a formal fix until months have passed. With Windows 8, unless they release a "Windows 8 Ultimate CompSci Geek" edition, this is shaping up to be the first time in over two decades I'll be holding on to my down-level Windows Operating System until I'm compelled to move by external forces.

I think you broke it.