This post was written when I was a child, I’m only keeping it here for archival purposes. All of these words should be only taken in context.
Before the Microsoft Store visit
The Surface is a device of compromise, yet Windows 8 is apparently a no compromises experience. All those who built the Surface speak of the compromises they had to make, yet when they speak of Windows 8, it is apparently a no compromises experience.
Compromise entails two parties with differing views coming to an agreement, yet one division inside Microsoft is only one party. Even more so, the hardware division doesn’t have anyone to argue with, they can do as they please. You can say that the Windows team has the Office team nagging them to not remove the desktop due to the incompetence of the Windows team to give them enough time to port Office to Metro.
There is a case for compromise, but in the hardware side? Where there is no one bitching at them to do something they don’t want to? I’m seriously thinking that Microsoft has been getting what is compromise, and what isn’t confused.
When your building hardware, everything you do is an intentional decision. The only factors you need to make compromise with (if any), is price and physics. Unless everyone on the team is schizophrenic, or bipolar, who is there to argue against?
Microsoft is plain wrong here. The Surface is not the product of compromise, but the child of intentional decisions. Decisions that they well knew had to be made.
As for Windows 8? It’s 100% the product of infighting within Microsoft, and their inability to truly get behind something.
In the Store
It’s October 26th, Windows 8 and the Surface have just launched. As such, the nerd inside of me who loves playing with new things, is dying to get his hands on the Surface.
Like Matt Alexander, I opened my famous internet site to see if any one would recognize me, because it’s so famous and stuff.
A couple hours into the day (near closing time), and a good half hour drive to the Florida mall later, I finally get my hands on one of these devices. I only took one picture of it (the only one that matters really), because unlike every other blogger out there, I can’t help but feel like a creep while using taking PR-like photos in the middle of a store.
The device itself is nice in the hands, almost plastic feeling, but has that metal ding to it. The fact that there aren’t any clean sides on the device, where there isn’t one hole or port, is quite disappointing. They surely couldn’t compromise into getting a more clean design it seems.
As for the screen, it has really nice color accuracy, but you can really tell it’s a low DPI display. Which probably isn’t the screen’s fault, but more or less the fault of how Windows 8 RT decides to render fonts.
Font rendering really does suck on Windows 8. At first, I thought it was because my laptop, which is currently running Windows 8 RTM, has an older GPU, therefore directwrite font rendering isn’t supported. Which in turn makes font rendering look like poop, but I was wrong, this issue extends to the Surface, which is pathetic.
Microsoft, the company behind cleartype, can’t even get Metro to properly subpixel antialias fonts. Which is even more frustrating, is the fact that the desktop uses cleartype in full. So that throws out the argument that you can’t properly subpixel antialias on devices that aren’t always in on rotation mode.
The touch and type covers are interesting beasts. They only exist for the sole purpose of using Microsoft Office, which is janky on the device as is. The touch cover is a really cool concept though, it uses pressure detecting sensors on slightly raised plastic to tell where you are pressing. I do like the idea, and I did get a decent hit-miss ratio on it, but it’s not worth a 120$ markup on the device. The type cover was like using a netbook keyboard though, and it made me wanting to go back to the keyboard on my Chromebook, which even at a small size, is very nice to type on.
The Surface is a nice product, it’d be better if they put all the ports in one area, and all the buttons in another.
It’d only be useful, however, if it were running Android and not the useless product henceforth known as Windows RT.
Metro is a good concept but fails in execution
I really want to love Metro, but I just can’t. I think it is a work of art, but a work of art that isn’t meant to be touched, or played with. Metro is all about text, and it is about how basic lines can convey information to you.
While this works for simple applications, like a Twitter app, showing a scrolling list of text feeds, it can’t work for more advanced operations.
Firstly, let’s look at the main competition; Android.
The defining feature of user interface in Android is the action bar, which is a bar that has the main UI icons, and scales gracefully with an overflow button at the end. You can use it to switch from different views in the application, move up and down from different views, and get to settings and the such.
It’s defining enough that you can tell, this is an Android app, but flexible enough, that it can work for every usecase out there.
With Metro however, there is no defining center of interaction for your application. Things are hidden by gestures, and the only consistency is the use of single blocks of color, big boxes, and lots of vertical scrolling.
Look at the application above, a basic audio editor. I’m not saying that the design is bad, because it isn’t, but can you imagine adding the layers of complexity that an app like fruity loops has, and still keeping some sane level of simplicity that we all know Metro for?
You can’t, because it isn’t possible. There isn’t any real room to go above a design like that, without having a big clusterfuck.
Another issue with Metro is, is that it is too abstract. It’s lonely, and easy to get lost in. There aren’t any features that don’t give a feeling of coldness. It’s the digital representation of robotic worlds played out in science fiction novels.
iOS is the example of going too far to make you feel comfortable though, by having lots of skeuomorphisms that make it try to feel just like the real world. Metro is the antithesis, with nothing to make you feel at home.
Metro is the one girl everyone wants to get with in high school, but once you get her, you realize that she has the depth of a flat Surface.
Android is the medium obviously, with a great design language that feels both digital, and warm.
Who is this for?
The only person I who I think would willing buy a Surface RT, is someone who ironically thinks Microsoft has saner privacy policies than Google, or those who are anti Apple.
And those who unfortunately are mentally tied to the idea that they need office.
Which turns out to be a lot of people, actually. The reasoning behind the touch and type cover are for office, as it’s not like you can install tons of desktop apps to begin with.
At 600$ though, you have to be daft to buy one not for the sole purpose of you being a hardware geek thus love using new devices. I say 600, since buying this without the touch cover makes no sense.
Hell, all of the Surface advertisements are telling us to Click in, at a 120$ markup.
Either way, you can get an ARM Chromebook, and a Nexus 7 for this price. You’ll have a great keyboard experience and a great tablet experience, with none of these silly compromises.