I have been using PCs and their predecessors since the mid 1980s. As a consequence I have come into contact with almost every Microsoft operating system since early versions of MS-DOS and have had to get used to almost every version of Windows. In my experience there has never yet been an upgrade that does not involve getting used to a new working environment that has sometimes been radically different. Old habits have to be unlearned, new ways of working must be discovered as formal training is rarely available. Change nearly always requires the expenditure of some effort.
The advent of Windows 8 is the latest learning exercise to hit computer users. Couple this with new form-factors and an obvious question, especially given all the negative press about disappearing Start buttons and baffled users, is whether the change worth the effort. Let me provide a view from personal experience.
A month ago I purchased the Surface Pro tablet with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. To this I quickly added a detachable type keyboard/cover. In this fashion I have essentially equipped myself with a very thin, light system potentially well suited to joining me on my frequent hand luggage only travels. But is such a hybrid really usable for extensive business use and can it get anywhere close to being as robust and travel friendly as the Fujitsu U772 Ultrabook with which I have been very happy for the past year?
To begin with I was too nervous to put all of my eggs in one basket and travel only with the Surface Pro keyboard option, and the Fujitsu U772 accompanied it in my briefcase. Partly this was down to my natural suspicion of any new technology, but my lack of familiarity with Windows 8 was also a significant factor.
After several weeks using both the touchscreen/stylus/keyboard driven Surface and Windows 8, l now have confidence that both are very likely to be part of my computing travel plans for some time to come.
I should, however, admit that I have been using Windows tablet software since the days of Vista and I have always found text entry with a stylus easy and convenient. Indeed, it is fair to say that handwriting recognition software usually allows me to produce documents more quickly than using a keyboard.
But the Surface Pro adds finger friendliness, and with three different modes, I find that I now have a pretty even split between using the Stylus, touchscreen and the detachable keyboard, with each coming into its own for different tasks. The stylus is employed for text entry (such as writing this blog or dealing with email), the touchscreen for web browsing or using apps especially configured to exploiting touch (which includes short bursts of Outlook), while the attached keyboard is utilised when I am sitting at a desk or table in laptop mode.
Altogether the hybrid device provides me with many ways of working and the fact that it takes up so little space in my briefcase makes it, like the Fujitsu Ultrabook an excellent companion device for travelling. If the Surface Pro had a little more battery life, a good docking station and options for greater RAM and a more capacious SSD, it would be a very strong contender to be a potential laptop replacement. If it managed stylus entry as well as Fujitsu’s Q702 tablet, highlighting Fujitsu’s long history in Tablet PCs, the Surface Pro could attract business users.
Business tablet devices such as the Fujitsu Q702 and some of those from Lenovo, HP and Dell are still ahead, but not by much and the price differential is significant. These PC vendors also currently have a major advantage in terms of how they support business uses out in the field. This is an area Microsoft and its Surface Pro go to market partners will need to establish before many potential uses will consider widespread deployments.
As for Windows 8, it is certainly different to its predecessors, but so far the challenges it has presented me with in my business work using a touch enabled tablet have caused me no major problems. Some niggles, certainly, but nothing that a little more on the job experience won’t fix. Indeed, the speed of start and the effective use of the limited RAM on the Surface Pro are subtle, but valuable, plus points.
In summary I suspect the hybrid design is well suited to highly mobile workers who utilise the Windows ecosystem for their applications. Whether these devices run on Windows 7 or 8 will come down to the availability of applications and the ability of IT to support the platform.
Tony Lock is Programme Director at Freeform Dynamics.