Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

First Look at Microsoft Surface and Windows 8

I recently purchased a PC laptop computer that came with Windows 8 installed. Shortly thereafter, I was able to use a new Surface tablet from Microsoft. I have noticed for most people, it is difficult to separate the device from the operating system. But in this case, I had some familiarity with Windows 8 before I sat down with the new Surface with Windows RT.

First some comments on the device. I like it. It is very thin and portable, has a nicely integrated keyboard and a bright screen with better than average resolution. All of the standard features, such as front and rear facing cameras, seem to work well. It comes with various ports such as, a Full-size USB port, a 2.0, a microSDXC card slot, a headset jack, an HD video out port and a cover port. The cover port allows the instant integration of a keyboard with the tablet. The Surface comes preinstalled with Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 RT. The key here is the disclaimer made by Microsoft, "Some features and programs unsupported. See" Essentially, the software is in Beta version and will be replaced free of charge with the release version when it becomes available. Some of the features of the full program that are limited include:
Your Windows RT tablet does not support Outlook or other desktop email applications such as Mozilla Thunderbird or Opera. Due to this, certain email features available for Office documents in other Office versions are not supported in Office Home & Student 2013 RT
Unfortunately, the Surface presently has a very limited pool of software. Microsoft's statement is that
Surface with Windows RT is designed to run apps from the Windows Store, so you know you’re finding trusted applications that help you see more, share more, and do more. Let Windows Store help you discover the apps that keep you in touch, up-to-date, and in the know.
I did have some trouble finding more apps for the device. My first challenge was actually finding the Windows Store itself and the apps that are currently available. I found a lot of pages about the Store and the benefits of owning a Microsoft device, but no list of apps. After searching for a while, I finally gave up, I could find lists of a few apps but never did find where to buy them or download the free ones. Apparently the connection to download apps is loaded on the Surface itself. Apparently, you can only see available Windows RT apps from an RT device. That is interesting.

Would I buy a Surface? Not right now. I couldn't find any software on the device that would make me buy one right now. For example, downloading books from Amazon to read on the device. It may be there, but I couldn't find it.

Now, to Windows 8. Its OK. Rather than a dramatic breakthrough for Microsoft, it turns out to be just another incremental adaptation of the basic MSDOS heritage based Windows programs. Windows 7 has turned out to be stable and has few quirks. As soon as you figure out you don't really have to deal with their "touch screen" interface, Windows 8 looks and operates pretty much the same as Windows 7. So far, I haven't found any gross incompatibilities. Will I upgrade my Windows 7 system on my iMac running Parallels Desktop to Windows 8? Not for a while, until I see if Windows 8 really is something I want to use.

Historically, the battle for computer operating system supremacy has always been characterized as an Apple vs. Microsoft war. I think that war is over and Apple won. Meanwhile, there is a new war, Microsoft vs. Google Android and Google Chrome. That one might be won by Google, but Microsoft is trying to stay in the battle. Bottom line, however, is would I buy a Surface over a Kindle or an Android tablet? Not right now.

Unless you just like to play around with a rather nice tablet, there are not a lot of reasons for a genealogist to jump into the Microsoft Surface world yet.


  1. Sorry for the shameless plug, but anyone interested in genealogy and using Windows 8 could try the family tree viewer app ViewGene (

  2. Amazon offers Kindle for Windows, so you should be able to have Kindle on the Surface. You won't find many apps on most tablets. You have to download them. I would agree that the Surface is not the best tablet for genealogists, but you have to look at a wide variety of apps and uses for genealogy before you can make the statement that it isn't the best for genealogists.