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May 23, 2017

History repeats itself: it's now the Surface Laptop

So the long awaited Microsoft Surface Pro 5 has finally been unveiled as the "new Surface Pro." In its media release, Microsoft calls it "the next generation of the iconic product line and the most versatile laptop on the planet. The new Surface Pro delivers the most performance and battery life in a laptop that is this thin, light and quiet."

So right off the bat, Microsoft makes it clear that it now considers the Surface Pro a laptop and no longer a tablet. And just for good measure, within the first two paragraphs of the May 23 press release, Microsoft doubles up with calling the Surface 5 Pro "the Surface Laptop," "the ultimate laptop," "making the classic laptop feel fresh again" and talking about "the most versatile laptop" and "powerhouse laptop."

The message is super-abundantly clear. Laptop. Not tablet. Laptop. With a bit of sarcasm one might ask what took Microsoft so long this time to abandon the tablet. After all, mobile computing historians recall how quickly Microsoft absorbed early tablet initiatives over a quarter of a century ago as soon as the pesky PenPoint platform had been defeated, and how Microsoft's own 2001 Tablet PC morphed into convertible notebooks before the Tablet PC was even officially launched.

What does it all mean? To bluntly put it on the table: for the third time Microsoft has realized that Windows simply isn't a tablet operating system, and, for the role Windows plays on many hundreds of millions of desktops, it will most likely never be. Let's face it: with all of their myriad of functions, features and tiny controls, the Windows power apps are not tablet material. As long as the Windows legacy lives, and that may be for quite some time, using touch and pens for an OS and software culture that was designed, from the very start, around the mouse will never work.

Eventually that may change, but that won't be anytime soon. It's been five full years since Windows 8 was launched, and with all of Microsoft's might, the vast majority of the scarce touch-centric apps remain basic and fairly useless. Even under the latest version of Windows 10, touch is just a thin veneer on top of Windows as it's always been.

But what of the remarkable success of the Surface tablets? Microsoft hasn't been officially bragging about that as making its own tablet hardware really put them in direct head-on competition with their hardware partners whose business fortunes much depend on selling hardware for Microsoft's software.

It's easy to see why Microsoft was tempted enough to make its own hardware to actually go ahead with it. A good part of Microsoft's Windows problems is that the software is expected to run on whatever PC hardware it's installed. That means literally billions of possible permutations of hardware components. Compared with Apple, which makes its own hardware for its own software and has total control over it, that's a daunting challenge.

So why was the Surface so remarkably successful? Because Microsoft, for once, controlled both hardware and software, and took advantage of that to make really good tablets. And also because of the remarkable success of the tablet form factor in general.

But Microsoft is not stupid and has most likely been painfully aware that there's just no way that, given the gigantic Windows legacy behemoth hanging around its neck, Windows will ever work very well on tablets. As long as users stay in the "tablet mode" of Windows 10, things work marginally well, but those apps are really only sort of an Android Light. So even Surface users will likely spend much of their time in desktop mode with the keyboard and a mouse attached.

So why not go the "it's not a bug, it's a feature" route and rather than admitting that, as is, Windows isn't a good match for tablets, simply make the tablet more like a real Windows machine, like a laptop. Like the ultimate, most versatile, most powerhouse laptop. The Surface Laptop. One that works like a real old-style laptop with a decent keyboard, but one that, thanks to advancing technology and miniaturization can also be used as a tablet if the user comes across some truly touch-centric tablet software.

So there.

All that said, the specs, of course, look great. Kaby Lake all the way (conveniently precludes Windows 7), nice big 12.3-inch 2736 x 1824 pixel screen (really the same as the Surface Pro 4), impressive projected battery life, but rather costly ($2,199 with 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD).

Just one thing. Though the Surface is now a laptop, it doesn't come standard with a keyboard nor a pen. Those are extras. Is a laptop without a keyboard still a laptop?

Overall, it's a bit odd.

Posted by conradb212 at May 23, 2017 07:56 PM

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