You Can't Touch This

One of the big selling points of Microsoft’s Surface tablet is that it will run the full Office suite natively. Ars Technica‘s Peter Bright got to take the beta version out for a test drive and discovered — no pun intended — only the surface functions have been touch-optimized:


And… that’s about it, the full extent of the finger support that Microsoft has added to Office 2013. If it doesn’t sound like much, there’s a good reason for that: it isn’t. For stylus users, the company says that accuracy has been improved, particularly in OneNote, but using the software with fingers is problematic.

“Problematic” might be putting it gently, after reading all of Bright’s article. Now this is only a beta version, but MS has promised that Surface and Office will ship in October. That’s not a very long time to rid three or four major, legacy applications of dozens of menus of touch-unfriendly drop-downs and radio buttons and all the rest.

Worse, would be to release it as-is, with a promise to “fix” the problems later. Just ask RIM, which shipped it’s PlayBook without even a simple email app — and never recovered.

Anyway, it all makes sense to me now why Microsoft has pushed Surface as the tablet with a keyboard. I wrote last month right after the big reveal that readers should

look at how Microsoft has introduced its tablet: With a keyboard. They aren’t saying, “We’ve built a great tablet.” They’re saying, “We’ve built a tablet with a great keyboard.” It’s a tablet that’s trying really hard to be a laptop when it grows up.


Turns out, you’re going to need that keyboard — and its built-in laptop-like touchpad — if you really want to take advantage of Office. I concluded then that the Surface is “confusing product from a company which is seems confused by what a tablet is supposed to do,” and one month later there doesn’t seem to be any reason to conclude anything different.

Tablets aren’t laptops. People use them differently, even when they’re performing the same tasks as on a mouse-and-keyboard computer. Apple understood this, and re-wrote (and re-imagined) their iWork and iLife suites from the ground up for iOS. Even the iPhone and iPad versions have major differences between them, since the iPad’s big screen opens up whole new possibilities which just won’t work on the iPhone.

But Steve Ballmer wants “Windows everywhere,” dammit, and he’s going to keep pounding square pegs into round holes right up until he blows yet another emerging computing market.


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