Surface Windows 8 Pro 128 GB Review Part 2 – Software

Overall impressions:

This is a device that should have come out 2 years ago. It feels like it’s behind because the tablet aspect of Windows 8 isn’t complete and it tries to trap me in the Microsoft/Windows universe. I mostly live in Google’s world now and there aren’t the necessary apps available on the tile interface in Windows 8 to make it useful. I can live in the browser like I do with a traditional computer but Windows 8 is too much of a hybrid and needs to make the tile interface more useful.

Before I started using Windows 8 I thought I would want to stay away from the tile interface and mostly use the desktop but after some use I can see that the desktop is no longer necessary. I think that Microsoft should have really bit the bullet and jettisoned the desktop altogether. As long as I can open full Windows applications from the tile interface, open multiple windows (which is not an available feature in the tile interface), and have access to my file system why do I need the desktop? Essentially the Start screen should be the new desktop. Microsoft has done a good job of providing just about everything a normal user would need from the tile interface. So far I can’t think of anything that I can’t get to from the Start screen. It just seems ridiculous for Windows to stay in desktop mode after I launch something from the Start screen. The only thing I can really do on the desktop that I can’t do on the Start screen is have more than two windows open. It’s not necessary on a small screen but it is something I do regularly on a desktop. Perhaps a future version of Windows can enable that functionality even from the start screen only if Surface is connected to an external monitor.

Now for airing of grievances (I got a lot problems with you Windows 8!):

  • How the hell do you delete tiles? There doesn’t seem to be a way to do this without the keyboard attached and I wouldn’t have known how to do that if I didn’t Google it. Seems to me that on a touch interface there should be an option to remove tiles from the Start screen without having to attach a keyboard.
  • I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out why it is that sometimes I could move a tile and other times the stupid tile would not move. I finally figured out that you have to drag the tile up first before you can move it. It doesn’t work like a normal tablet would whereby you would just tap and hold until the icon or tile gives you a visible cue letting you know you can move it and then drag it to where ever you want it to go. I kept dragging to one side or the other and dragging down in frustration until it dawned on me to simply try each direction, one at a time, prior to dragging. Now I figured it out.
  • Everything I’ve heard regarding moving between the desktop and the “Metro” interface is true. When moving in and out of programs it’s not clear exactly where you’ll end up. Sometimes it seems Windows sends you back to the tiles and sometimes you stay on the desktop.
  • Can’t pinch to zoom some applications on the desktop. Namely Chrome. When using a browser on a tablet type device you expect to be able to use your fingers to expand or contract anything in the browser with your fingers. IE 10, Office 2013 applications, I should note, do allow you to use your fingers to pinch to zoom. I guess that’s one way to get me to use IE more.
  • Installed Chrome and the default mode was a full screen mode. Took me a little while to figure out there was a setting in Chrome’s drop down menu where I could change to desktop mode.
  • Accidentally hitting the “Clear” button on the Tiles settings panel certainly does the job instantly. It would have been nice to have a pop up warning asking me if I really meant to do that.
  • Surface is not joining the Homegroup on my home network. I’ve entered the password and the progress circle just keeps on spinning. So I tried to connect to my Homegroup using the Network and Sharing Center and I get the same result except it’s the progress bar that keeps on scooting across the screen. This is a major fail if I can’t get this to join. It will make sharing printers and files difficult.
  • Surface is having difficulties accessing the Internet at my work. What’s odd is that desktop applications can use the Internet but any app from the tile interface can’t. I don’t understand why this is at all. I ended up rebooting the machine and that seemed to solve the issue. I just wish I knew what glitch caused apps from the tile interface to lose Internet connectivity while desktop applications retained it. It makes no sense how such a thing can happen.
  • The tiles seem to have a mind of their own. I try to move a tile where I want but all the other tiles move automatically and rearrange. I wish I could turn off this feature so I can arrange tiles as I see fit.
  • I can’t seem to connect my Google account with the People tile. It rejects my password (which I typed extremely carefully). I also tried designating an application specific password created from my Google account and that didn’t work. I’m baffled by this.
  • In desktop mode there isn’t any consistency as to when you can click things on screen with your finger or when you need to use a mouse. Sometimes while browsing the web and I need to click on a check box I find it easy to just touch the screen but then find that nothing happens and I have to go to the trackpad on the keyboard. This is stupid, not intuitive, and what if I don’t have the stupid keyboard with me?
  • I’m a Dropbox user. I had no idea that you couldn’t install Dropbox on an SD card. So I Googled how to do it and it turns out that all you have to do is go through a few steps to mount the removable storage to the C: drive. Why doesn’t the Dropbox installer just tell you this? Do they have something against removable media? I did install the “Metro” version but I like to have all my documents available offline and using the “Metro” version requires an Internet connection to access those files. To make matters worse Surface is taking an eternity to sync my Dropbox files. It’s been going for 3 days now. Sure, I have 30 GB worth of files to sync but no other machine that I’ve had has taken more than a day or so at most.
  • I would like to save bookmarks as a tile and I couldn’t tell if that’s possible or not so I had to go to Google to find the answer. The reason it was not immediately obvious is because I installed Chrome and made it my default browser. This turned IE into a desktop application and took away the option for me to pin bookmarks to the Start screen as a tile using IE. I’ve searched on how to do the same in Chrome but have not found anything yet. I tried to go back to Chrome as my default browser thinking that any bookmarks saved as tiles would then open in Chrome but Windows deletes your bookmark tiles as soon as IE is no longer the default. That sucks.
  • With IE as the default browser I don’t see where you can get to your bookmarks. There is no bookmark bar and no home button. Both of which I’m accustomed to using in any browser. I can get by with out a home button but I don’t see the sense in not being able to get to your bookmarks without going to desktop mode or back to the start screen and the tiles. Further searching for answers using Google I found out that in the Metro version of IE if you swipe down from the top of the window you’ll find your tabs and if you swipe up from the bottom you’ll find your bookmarks.
  • Being an Android user I’m accustomed to all my apps updating automatically. Most of the time there is nothing I need to do. I just get a notification in the upper left hand corner of my screen that an app has been updated. In Windows 8 you have to tell the OS to update. At least you can select to “update all”.
  • My hatred for mobile browsing continues. IE10 when launched from the tile interface is a stupid mobile browser. How do I know that? I know this because I tried to login to my Slingbox and was rejected. How stupid is this? Now, of course, I can use the desktop version of IE or I can use Chrome, but, how much more convenient is it to just launch it from a tile on the Start screen? This kind of stupidity with mobile browsers needs to stop. Why on Earth are there two different versions of IE running on the same machine in the first place? Why is there ANY kind of mobile browser installed on a full version of Windows?

All the gripes above are gripes I would have made when going from an operating system I’m familiar with to one that I’m not. Windows 8 has many new gestures and conventions that will take some getting used to. There is a lot to fix and it is my hope that my gripes are the same gripes as most users so these will be the ones that get fixed first.