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Surface Pro available Feb 9th 2013

Microsoft Surface Pro with full Windows 8 Pro comes out in February

Microsoft has announced that its Surface Pro tablet will be available Feb 9th. Many enterprise customers have been waiting for this version of the Surface, which will run a full version of Windows 8 Pro with the touch-sensitive modern mode and support for Windows 7 apps. I have been testing the Surface tablet with Windows RT over the past 3 months using Remote Desktop to access my servers and have been pleasantly surprised. It's a great piece of hardware. OK, the Surface is just a tablet built with a Quad-core ARM-based processor. It runs a scaled down version of Windows 8 called RT (for Run Time) which only runs the new Windows 8 "modern mode" applications from the Microsoft Store. The exception to the rule is a special Desktop version of IE 10.0 and also a special RT version of Office 2013. However, Flash and Active-X plugins are not supported; so many older websites are not compatible. But the iPad has already burnt those bridges so most modern websites are perfectly fine. The all important (sic) FaceBook website works fine in both modern and desktop mode. I am sure Microsoft worked hard on making sure that happened. Zooming in with the pinch of the fingers on websites works really well with fonts being smooth at all levels. The 5-point touch screen is really responsive. Having used Windows 7 Tablet mode, which was optimized for pen-input, it shows that Microsoft has done a lot of work in Windows 8 to support touch sensitive screens. It is a smooth-operator and a real pleasure to use. But when I need to get some work done I need a keyboard. The magnetic touch-cover acts as a handy keyboard/protective cover and is well designed and thin. However, it takes some getting used to. The lack of movement of the keys is disconcerting at first but with the sound turned on, you quickly get a hang of just how much pressure is required for a key-stroke. And unlike most Bluetooth keyboards, I noticed no lag time between keys and display of characters. Connecting and disconnecting is literally a snap. Disconnected, you are in pure tablet mode with on-screen keyboard which appears when needed. Connected, you are at maximum productivity. Turning the keyboard backwards quickly produces a "tablet tent" for browsing the web at just the right angle. This emulates the Lenovo "Yoga" tablet. I also tested out the type-cover which is a little thicker but has keys that actually move in the standard way. If I am doing some serious typing that is useful but for most casual activity the spill-proof touch-cover is perfect. It's nice to have the choice. It is worth noting it took me a bit of time to notice the touch-cover's left and right-click points which are just below the touch-pad itself. The type-cover has a clear line actually on the touch-pad so the click points are easy to locate. You cannot install SQL Server on Windows RT, but then again why would you want to? To connect to my servers I downloaded the free Remote Desktop app onto the Surface and have full admin capabilities with keyboard and touch-screen support. The Surface Pro will allow SQL Server installation if you really need to. I have tested SQL Server 2012 running on Windows 8 and it works fine. Much has been heralded about the Surface being Microsoft's first venture into computer hardware, but people forget its experience with the ever-successful Xbox products. This must have helped because the Surface is no prototype and has the look and feel of a mature, solid product. I used the MicroSDXC card slot to expand the storage by another 64GB beyond the basic 32GB SSD on my machine. But after three months I have around 12GB available out of the original 32GB (there is also a 64GB SSD option). That is after supporting a family of 4 frequent users, all of whom love using the Surface. Incidentally, my kids’ favorite app is Fresh Paint which is a free download from the Microsoft Store. Oil paints without the mess, very nice. I am surprised with myself to find that with Windows 8 I am now completely dependent on the cloud and SkyDrive. No more active syncing between desktop, laptop, phone and tablet. Everything is synced automatically with SkyDrive in the Cloud. SkyDrive is accessible using my Microsoft Live Id and means I have 25GB cloud storage for free. My photos, documents, calendar, contacts and even my favorite hyperlinks appear on all my devices when I need them. You can decide exactly what you sync in the Cloud. I set this up using the Outlook Hotmail Connector and a useful blog post by Prof Julie (MVP) available here. I now use Windows Phone 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT to access the cloud services available and can even use Outlook.com to access all this information if I need to on other computers. When I am teaching a Virtual Class over the internet, I now use 3 machines: one as the instructor, one as a "dummy" student so I can see what the remote students see, and the Surface for the online documentation using the Reader app. No more heavy Microsoft books necessary. I can reference the student guide while I am teaching with the stroke of a finger. A very green solution that I am sure Microsoft will soon be offering to the actual students once it works out the intellectual capital issues. These days, shipping a "telephone book" size student guide is a huge waste of resources at many levels. The days of measuring training by the pound are gone! A good application to run on the Surface is Skype. It can use the forward- and reverse-facing cameras to enable video calls with clear, crisp images and sound. Hooking up with family and friends at home and overseas is easy and most importantly, free. I like free. This will also be Microsoft's messaging platform for the future as MSN Messenger goes away in March. Some of the improvements coming with the Surface Pro include Windows 8 Pro with Windows 7 compatibility, digital-stylus support in addition to a 10-point multi-touch-screen, 128 GB SSD HD option, dual-core Intel i5 processor, USB 3.0, 4GB RAM, Full 1080p HD display. All in all, the Surface is a sleek, quality machine. Whether it's a tablet or a laptop doesn't matter. You can choose whatever mode you wish to use. And if you need the full-blown Surface Pro, you'll be happy on Feb 9th.

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