Microsoft, software behemoth and now pervader of all things touchy feely, the software giant is experiencing a course correction, a change in direction. With a single consistent platform in mind they have been making much noise about the new Windows 8 Operating System. Now they have released upon the world the rest of the equation. With demonstration of Surface we have the opportunity to see the other side of the glass, the hardware.
With the first tangible hardware running Windows 8 on display preparations for its release along side the Windows 8 platform are well under-way. The release is imminent if the demonstration hardware is any indicator. Although the hardware crash during the video presentation wasn’t flattering, it was hilarious. See the Fail video at the end of the article for Microsoft’s latest Fail moment.
The entire Windows 8 eco-system is now becoming apparent. Joining the Surface tablets in the new Windows 8 eco system is the imposing 80-inch Surface for the corporate world. Also, for the developers amongst us, Microsoft has this week released the SmartGlass SDK which allows anyone to create applications that to integrate the X-Box 360 and all Windows 8 devices.
The Surface Tablets
With the preview of the Surface many are wondering if Microsoft is getting back into the hardware game. This isn’t the case however, the new tablets are simply Microsoft’s OEM design, with the design freely available to OEM – Original Equipment Manufacturers– manufacturers who wish to join the Surface party have a ready made design to use.
Two versions are to be available at launch latter this year. The base model will use an ARM processor, Windows 8 RT and cost $599 when released along side Windows 8. A Pro model will be released 3 months later, based on an Intel Core i5 with the full version of Windows 8, including desktop, the Pro Version will set you back $999.
Both models will be based around a 10.6 inch wide-screen profile display. While final screen resolutions have yet to be confirmed CNET has it on good authority that the RT edition will include a 720p – 1280×720 resolution – screen the Pro model will include a full HD 1920×1080 display.
Surprisingly both models will be Wi-Fi only. Microsoft has no plans currently to release a 3G, let alone 4G connected Surface. A stunning omission, if market dominance were the intention. Which of course isn’t the Surfaces role, manufacturers are free to add various connectivity and camera options to the design.
The integrated kick-stand and super slim keyboard will be standard on all models. The RT’s slender profile is reinforced by the numbers, 9.3mm thick and weighing just 676g. The Pro model’s vital statistics are a little chunkier than the RT at 13.5mm thick and weighing 903 grams, there is after-all a full PC hiding behind the glass.
The two models will also differ on memory and ports. The RT Surface will be sold with two memory options, 32 or 64B, while the Pro version will go up to 128GB of Flash storage. The RT Surface will include full sized USB 2.0 ports while Pro will include USB 3.0 along with microSDXC card slot. The Pro tablet will also include a stylus allowing simultaneous pen and finger input, a dream setup for graphic designers.
Battery life is still an unknown factor, estimates suggest that the RT may last at least as long as an iPad, 8 hours, the Pro version will be a little more thirsty and will struggle to reach 6 hours between charges..
One important differentiation between the RT and Pro models are the applications they can install and run. Metro Applications will be available through the app store and able to run on both flavors of Windows 8. These apps are written using the new Metro Windows 8 SDK and are designed to run through the start screen. Similar in design to the current generation of SmartPhone or Tablet applications these will be easy to use and light.
The Pro model tablets combination of Intel CPU with Windows 8 Desktop OS gives the Pro access to both Metro Apps and Desktop applications. Only Windows 8 Desktop will include the ability to install Windows 7 and 8 desktop applications, making the Pro tablet a potent combination of tablet convenience and powerful applications.
Microsoft’s hardware partners were caught by surprise by the announcement of Microsoft’s new Surfaces. Microsoft has been known to burn partners from time to time, this is just another case of MS burn, in this case just a mild burn, heart burn level, not a stroke inducing burn. The Surface will quickly be joined by other designs from these partners. Acer is already preparing their new model, expect it to be expensive but far more complete than the Surface.
Is Surface going to change the world. Not at all, but it may just change Microsoft. The success of Surface is closely tied to Windows 8, in fact it is more a question of will Windows 8 be a success.
All of this though is only part of the equation. Many industry commentators are concerned by the inability to change business models. Microsoft is locked into selling their operating system for substantial fees, a business model that looks shaky in the face of free OS’s like Android and Chrome OS.
The next transition that MS has to make is the transition away from a purely software company to a company that sells an experience. With the preview of Chrome OS for the desktop looking very promising Google may be about to do a Microsoft and give it away for free. Windows is about to be undercut by free alternatives. With MS’s business model tied so closely to user license fees Microsoft is tightening its own noose.
The SmartGlass SDK
Continuing Microsoft’s announcements this week is the release of the SmartGlass SDK. Allowing developers to create applications that integrate X-Box 360 and Windows 8 RT / Pro functions.
Providing integration and a consistent user experience across integrated platforms, Microsoft is shooting for the moon. SmartGlass as the name suggest is the logic or intelligence needed to make the many different devices, or slabs of glass, integrate seemlessly. Obviously Microsoft is well on the way to building a single consistent interface across the many platforms, Windows 8 will finish this task. Now they need to software that lets the platforms work together.
At it’s simplest this software might enhance X-Box gaming by providing a set of gaming controls and extra in game information on your tablet. The old trick of swiping a playing video off your tablets display to the big screen TV in the room will be achieved using SmartGlass software, in the Microsoft world anyway.
The 80 inch Surface
Other Microsoft Surfaces have already generated their fair share of headlines, the Surface Coffee Table and the Sharp Aquos touch screen have already set imaginations firing. Now a new Surface is invading offices. The 80-inch Surface is intended to replace the traditional whiteboard with a hi-def touch screen, a fair exchange.
Wired UK recently reported that Steve Ballmer has adopted the monster Surface in his office. Replacing his tradition desktop clutter, literal, with a Surface mounted on the wall. Even his desk phone has been superseded by the Surface.
Internally the monster Surface is driven by Windows RT and an ARM processor. The specifications are said to be similar to the RT tablet.
The release of Windows 8 is incredibly important for Microsoft, the world is changing quickly around them, already it is a vastly different world than 2009 when Windows 7 was released.
Microsoft has the technology, they can rebuild him. The Metro technology has the ability to change the user experience completely, burning the old paradigm down to the ground. Leaving only how well Microsoft adapt and execute as the keys to their success. It’s a brave new world.
The vision for Microsoft’s future is starting to come into focus. With real world products to touch and test along with intelligent software stitching it all together the tiles are appearing on the horizon, marching clearly into view.
Related Article: Windows 8 Preview