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Windows 8, Microsoft and the upcoming Surface Pro

Yes, I am currently the very happy owner of the new Microsoft Surface. I decided to buy the 64gb version last week and have really warmed to it in the last 5 days of testing and experimentation. Windows 8 has been a hot topic of conversation for enthusiast users since it was released, and out of the box I think it works well on the tablet. I am happy I picked the 64gb Surface up for only £399 via Ebay, I always like feeling as if I got a bargain.

Getting Windows 8 to a level I am happy with on a desktop PC is a different story. The Metro tile interface has to be immediately ditched for the ‘plain desktop interface' and I installed a Start menu from interface experts Stardock (Start8). After another hour of tweaking, I managed to get it looking like Windows 7. Not that difficult really, but it seems such a clumsy way for Microsoft to operate.

There is an old saying' if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. Before you claim I am a simply stubborn and that ‘changing things up' is the way technology should be, let me explain a little.

I don't own a 24 inch touch screen, and no I don't want one either – ever. I suffer from a rather unpleasant obsession with keeping my monitor spotless, so I don't really want to be squinting through my dirty fingerprints while I am working or gaming. I appreciate the usefulness of a touch screen for check in when attending my doctor's surgery, but at home when using Office? No thanks, Microsoft. Stop trying to change the way I want to work, please.

Also why is the ‘shutdown' option located inside a ‘settings' menu? Since when is wanting to turn your PC off, considered a setting? Windows 7 has a really easy shut down option in the start menu. Sure, you can use key commands or other ways to shut down your PC, but for most people, moving the mouse pointer to a start menu then ‘shut down' was the easy way.

Windows 8 can tend to complicate things unnecessarily at times. Almost as if the development team were just trying to come up with ‘cool' interface ideas, rather than genuinely trying to improve the experience. I want faster ways to do things, most of us do.

The same situation applies on the tablet side of Windows 8, except in reverse. You really don't want to be forced to use the desktop interface at all, but it is there, lurking behind the Metro interface, like big brother. This really is the main problem for Windows 8, Microsoft's clumsy way of introducing the user to the experience.

For instance, if I want to check battery life on my Windows Surface tablet, the best way is to go into the Windows 8 desktop (yes, outside Metro), and click the battery icon on the taskbar – exactly like you do in Windows 7 on a laptop. The Metro UI still needs work for the Surface. Some of the settings aren't always easily found, and it can slow down from time to time, when you least expect it. The Internet Explorer browser can also crash fairly regularly and some websites exhibit issues. I am sure Microsoft will continue to fix things, but its rather uninspiring at times.

Netflix however, simply rocks on the Surface. I watched three films last night, not a single hitch on a crappy BT landline and still had 3 hours battery life left afterwards.

Microsoft needed to implement a detection system when Windows 8 is installed. If you are installing it on a desktop, use an algorithm to detect the CPU in the system. If its a desktop CPU and the user says ‘No, I don't have a touchscreen' then disable Metro completely. Another prompt for ‘Start Menu – yes or no', would save myself (and many other people) from paying to get it back via third party software, such as Start8.

I can live with the little interface glitches on the tablet, while Microsoft fix the bugs and hopefully tweak the interface to make navigation a little more logical at times.

All this said, I love the Surface tablet, the Type keyboard is fantastic, and I can work at ‘almost' desktop speeds when moving around. Why Microsoft didn't offer a 3G version of the current range of tablets has saddened me.

This brings me into the upcoming release of the higher end Surface Pro tablets. Microsoft claim these will be the iPad beaters. At $899 I would like to hope they will be. Let's get that into perspective, that's around twice the price of the iPad. The Surface Pro will ship with the regular Windows 8 operating system, not Windows RT on the current models.

To make this costing concern worse, if you want the cover keyboard, then you have to pay extra. I managed to pick up the Type keyboard cover on ebay for my Surface RT for £110 (it has tactile feedback, not like the Touch version).

When the Surface Pro hits the United Kingdom, I would guess the $899 price will translate into around £800 inc vat, and then another £110 for the keyboard. We are into the same price territory now as a very powerful laptop system. The PC Specialist Inferno 11.6 inch laptop which we reviewed a short while ago is around £650 inc vat, ships with a Quad core Intel i7 processor and obviously already has a keyboard built into it. You want Windows 8? Yes PC Specialist include that too.

Microsoft say the Surface Pro will ship with a stylus, which certainly sweetens the deal a little. I still think the Surface Pro will have weaker battery life however and with a cost of $900+ I think they are pricing themselves out of the market completely. Even if it is better than the iPad, who will be able to afford one?

Microsoft need to step back and have a look at their current strategy for tackling both desktop and mobile users. The Surface RT is a very capable tablet, sadly without 3G and it has some careless interface issues. Desktop Windows 8 has many unnecessary interface decisions forced on the user, willing or not. These could have been avoided with some simple installer analysis of the partnering hardware. Surface Pro will cost a fortune and no matter how good it is, very few people will be willing to spend the guts of $1000 to beta test it.

The sad thing is, Microsoft are releasing fantastic products, simply hampered by poor decision making. Windows 8 is far from the turkey that many people claim it is, but with the tweaks needed to get it back to the familiar ‘Windows 7' way of working, many people simply won't bother.

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