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Danny Sullivan Rants on the Microsoft Surface Tablet

Hands-Off:

When the event was over, I was really looking forward to when my appointment would come around. I had about an hour wait…. [W]e were allowed to go through in groups of about eight…. “Hands-on” was used in plenty of headlines, and that irked me, because I know we weren’t given any real hands-on with the device at all. That is, unless you believe holding an iPad or a Kindle Fire that’s not turned on is “hands-on.” That’s pretty much what it was like with Surface….

[T]he Microsoft guys were rambling on about all the awesome stuff that makes these keyboards work as well — if not better — than a real keyboard…. I wanted to try one of the damn things. You know, like hook it up to a Surface and see it for myself…. I asked one of the Microsoft guys if we could try the keyboard with the Surface he was holding, one that wasn’t on. Nope. Why not? He just kind of shrugged and said he didn’t know….

After seven minutes (according to the time stamps between my photos), we were moved to the next station, where the innards of the Surface were spread-out…. What I did care about was that this station had a keyboard hooked up to a Surface. Of course, the Surface wasn’t actually on. But at least I could get a sense of what it was like to open it….

[A]s the last group of the day, there was absolutely no one behind us. That meant, oh — yeah, there was no reason to rush us other than to keep our time as limited with the Surface — well parts of Surface — as possible.

No matter. At the last table were live, working units. As with the previous tables, this station had two Microsoft guys behind it…. That’s not a journalist holding Surface. It’s one of the Microsoft guys. They’d swing them around with a pretty picture on the front, I guess so we’d go “ooh” and “ahh.” If we were lucky, we were allowed to hold one for a few seconds. But if you tried to do anything with it, bang, it was gone.

Believe me, I know. I tried…. I brought up the Start screen by hitting the Windows button on the front of the tablet, hit Desktop to get to the Windows 8 desktop, did a long press guessing that would bring up the Screen Resolution setting and it did — at which point, the unit was literally jerked out of my hands…. I don’t think Microsoft guy number one quite knew what I was doing (you know, trying to actually use the damn computer the way I’d use a computer), so Microsoft guy number two didn’t catch on that by no means should I be allowed to hold one of these devices again. After more begging — “please can I hold it please please please can I hold it” — I got another maybe 10 seconds to repeat what I did before. That got the unit jerked away again, with a “Nice trick” remark.

Nice trick? No, you know what’s a nice trick? Bringing out devices that no one can actually use. I know they work. I could see that one of the Microsoft guys was all logged into his. But why not let us actually use them, especially when you’ve made us wait from 10 to 60 minutes specifically, as we were told, so we’d all have some close-up time with Surface?…

[T]o me the distinguishing point of Surface is Windows 8 itself, the fact that unlike the iPad, it looks to be a proper desktop computer tucked into a tablet. Can I really take one of these on the road, use it like a tablet, then plug back in at home or elsewhere to external monitors or keyboard to use like a desktop? I see some awesome in that….

Windows 8 is different, unique, seems to offer some compelling features…. At the SXSW conference in March, Microsoft had a non-Surface Windows 8 tablet out in its booth. It was fascinating to see a tablet with a real file system…. It’s a pity Microsoft didn’t have enough faith in Surface to let the journalists there actually have the hands-on that we wanted…

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