I know I am a bit late to this party. It is pushing two weeks since the release of the Microsoft Surface and surely more eloquent individuals have stated what I am about to say. But some things you just have to address when they feel as though they’re a significant step forward for the design industry. The weekend after Microsoft announced its new Surface tablet and Windows 8, I happened to be in Seattle and decided to take an extra few minutes and stop in to the Bellevue Square Microsoft Store. If you’re not familiar with the Seattle area, basically I walked straight into Mordor. To get to the store I had to drive by the Microsoft campus. Normally, this wouldn’t have been something to mention, but my feelings for Microsoft have changed over the years. I have not been shy with my comments on the debacle that was Zune. Even in an era of “good enough”, they couldn’t get it right. Windows ME and Vista were veritable gong shows. Windows 7 felt as though it had them back on track to doing things right. But Surface….Surface is the first step Microsoft seems to have taken towards understanding that design is an integral part of their product offering(s).
What I noticed first about Surface was that it is SOLID. As in, it is a rock solid piece of hardware. I picked it up and it instantly gave the impression that it is a well built piece of electronics. Tight tolerances everywhere. The right weight. My first reaction to the snap on keypad flexible keypad was that it would be better off without it. A simple cover on the tablet would be sufficient. If I really need to type, I’d go for their type-pad. The type-pad has spring loaded keys and feels like a keypad.
This brings me to my problem with Surface, and subsequently Windows 8. It has an identity crisis. I get what Microsoft is doing. They’re trying to appeal to their old constituents that claim that they need things like a keyboard for productivity. The old constituents that can’t let go of the legacy of things like the Windows button bringing me to a desk top, and confusing me as to where I am within the OS. I tend to think that if I were to use a Surface for a week or two, I’d quickly get past this. But I can’t help but think on first blush that the Windows 8 interface is the Achilles heal of Surface. It is holding on too tightly to the past, and therefore keeping the product from being everything I expect from Microsoft.
My Expectations of Microsoft
I have very high expectations of Microsoft. I hated Zune because they could have done so much better than a me too version of a music player. I hated Windows ME and Vista because they were so tragically flawed and a company like Microsoft should not be putting out tragically flawed product. They’re better than that. They should want to be better than that.
That leaves me hoping that the current path that Microsoft is on, with the success of XBox and the strong design of Surface, that Microsoft is on track to being the world leader I expect them to be. I can’t put Windows 8 on that trajectory, yet. I definitely feel as though they’ve gotten it wrong having a touch screen on a laptop…but again, I need to get one in front of me for a while to allow myself to remain open to the vision they’re trying to bring to my laptop experience.
Oh, the last thing I have to say is that the Microsoft store was great. It felt just like an Apple Store (yes, that’s a back handed compliment). This plays into the same feelings of my expectations. I am tired of seeing Microsoft sliding in on other people’s successes. A group with as deep pockets as they have should be experimenting and putting out their own vision for the world. I guess I don’t see them as visionaries, but that’s what I want them to be.