Hal Berenson defends Office on Windows RT

Hal presents “a reasoned and rational defense of the current state of Office on Windows RT machines”:http://hal2020.com/2012/11/07/understanding-office/. I am almost half convinced. But I do differ with Hal on some points.

* The Office and Windows businesses have always been intertwined, they owe big parts of their individual successes to each other, they are all part of the same ecosystem bet. And for the Office team to deliver such a tepid solution for the premier effort of the Windows team, well that seems like a missed opportunity.
* And it is not just that the Office team bet against Windows RT. They have continuously bet against mobile devices across the board — there is no great mobile Office solution from Microsoft for any tablet or phone You can perhaps understand the waffling on Windows RT, but to completely ignore the trend towards mobile?
* An argument is made that no one at Microsoft could have predicted how thinly supported the desktop mode would be in Windows RT. That shows a real lack of foresight, since it only took about 12 nanoseconds for speculation to start on this outside the company once Windows RT was announced.
* Office, the richest and biggest group at Microsoft, couldn’t find a way to squeeze out mobile versions of their apps? Somehow Apple has done it for Keynote and Numbers and Pages, and they have a fraction of the revenues and profits in those groups.

Obviously I am unhappy with the Office experience on my Surface, and expected Microsoft to do better. Overlaying a touch interface on an existing mouse interface simply doesn’t work very well — and it was completely knowable and should have been addressed more deeply in Microsoft’s strategy.

UPDATE: “Hal articulately explains how the Microsoft culture has changed since my tenure there in the Paleozoic era, and how the Office team had limited/no information about Windows RT”:http://hal2020.com/2012/11/07/understanding-office/#comment-3532. Hat tip to Hal, this is very edifying. Based on that, I withdraw some of my criticism of the Office team, particularly wrt Office on Windows RT — you can’t bet on something if you don’t know anything about it. I will redirect that criticism to Windows management and Microsoft management — if you are going to ship a device whose hallmark feature is Office, then you better damn well make sure you have created the environment for it to have a great version of Office.

I will still blame the Office group in part tho — they may have had no insight into Windows RT, but they certainly knew that touch devices (Win8 on Intel, iPad) were going to be important in the future, and that running “classic Office” with its mouse/kb interface on these devices was going to be a bad experience.

At least the Surface has forced me to think about what devices I carry

Overall the Surface is, well, a turd. It is a crappy cheap laptop. Or maybe an ok-but-expensive tablet, although completely lacking the tablet apps I want.

But it has forced me to think about the gear I carry. Right now my bag contains a laptop (MacBook pro or ASUS ultra book depending on the day), an iPad 3, and a Kindle Touch. And now the Surface is trying to push its way in there. Oh and my phone is always in my pocket. What do I really need?

The principles I think are this:

* All data is going to synced with the cloud all the time, and will be available with native clients on every relevant platform, so using multiple devices is a fine experience
* All devices are going to get lighter, cheaper, with greater power and battery life. Carrying around a couple won’t be a problem weight-wise or economically.
* Device design will be optimized for the way it is used — consumption, creation, etc.

I’m always going to have a phone. Pocket sized, 1 day battery, great voice/text, decent apps and web. No need for it to bloat up in size, I’ve got other bigger devices with me, and I want it in my pocket, and it just has to be great at texting and talking.

I also need a great content creation device. A 13-15″ screen with a great keyboard (the Surface keyboard is too compromised), in a stiff shell so that the keyboard works well (the Surface has taught me the value of a stiff shell). Today this is a MacBook Air or Ultrabook, these will just get better and lighter.

And then I need a great browsing and consumption device for web, video, games, etc. The current iPad is great but is just a little too big. I’m betting the market moves to the 7″ tablet form factor, the iPad Mini/Kindle/Nexus. Fits in a hand, great for reading or video or web or games, great battery life. Smarter people than me are betting on this move as well — see for instance the “Daring Fireball”:http://daringfireball.net/2012/10/ipad_mini view on the iPad mini. This knocks the current iPad and Kindle out of my bag (though I do love the passive display on the Kindle, so maybe I still carry the smallest Kindle around).

This set of gadgets would be substantially lighter and more compact than what I carry today, and would hit all my needs, and isn’t that much to carry around. An implication: Tweener devices make no sense. Phablets? Surface? Eh. You’ll just carry a best of breed 7″ tablet and a laptop. The tweeners are economic compromises — cheaper than carrying two devices — but over time, the prices on all these gadgets continue to drop, the economic argument is a loser long run. And tweener devices are always design compromises — never great at either scenario, no matter how much work engineering goes into the transforming bridge work.

I wouldn’t rush out to buy a Surface.

I have the attention span of a gnat, and too large a hardware budget, so of course I ordered a “Surface”:http://www.microsoft.com/Surface/en-US day one. I got my Surface on Friday. 64G, black, both the touch and the type covers. My motto — “Buying first release technology since 1979 so you don’t have to!”

There are a million reviews to read of the Surface. I’ll be using it over the course of the next several months and will share my thoughts, including these initial views. “Hal Berenson”:http://hal2020.com/2012/10/28/understanding-the-microsoft-surface-a-sort-of-review/ is a thoughtful guy and I’d read his notes, he is more positive than I am at this point. So some good balance.

The hardware is solid. A little heavy but feels robust, and I like the width a lot. Having a kb is nice. When you are sitting at a table or desk, the type cover is probably superior. When sitting on the couch with the Surface on your lap, I think the touch cover is a little more functional. As others have said tho, your fingers can easily drift on the touch cover and occasionally you start hitting the wrong keys entirely. It is odd that the kbs have a Fn key, and I have no idea what the Device and Share buttons are for. But good kbs, the Surface delivers on the tablet+keyboard promise.

The Win8 touch interface is fine. Different than iOS but not in a bad way, just different. And some things are very nice — the live tiles are definitely an improvement over iOS as is the ability to pin objects to the home screen. But…Win8 has oh so many fit and finish issues. Copy and paste is tricky to use. Edit focus jumps around randomly on some screens. Moving the text insertion point is painful. Too many clicks to do common operations. Laggy at times. Config options buried and hard to find — it took me a long time to figure out how to selectively show a calendar. Dragging to rearrange the home screen is a hit or miss proposition. The whole legacy desktop thing which is particularly useless on an ARM device.

The marketplace is very weak. Lots of brandname apps missing. No Dropbox. No Spotify. No ESPN Scorecenter. No Twitter, Tweetbot, Tweetdeck. There are some offbrand replacements for some of these but many of them are crap, of the two twitter clients I tried, only 1 actually worked, and I have to terminate and restart it regularly. WordPress app won’t work. Feed reader won’t work. In MSFT’s attempt to fill the store, they have obviously lowered the quality bar. Will this get better? One can hope. It probably depends on how committed MSFT really is to the Surface, and their orphaning of my Nokia Lumia doesn’t bode well. This is one reason why I say “wait”, MSFT needs to prove they are committed to fixing the marketplace issues (particularly for the ARM devices, I am sure this will be less an issue for Intel-based devices).

The other big selling point of the Surface is Office. Office is just a direct port of the desktop app, with only modest concessions for touch. And the touch support is simply not sufficient — mapping fat-fingered touches onto a fine resolution mouse interface is not a good experience. Sure you can type, but try creating a slide in PPT with a simple architecture diagram — some boxes with text and connecting lines. Now do it in Keynote on an iPad. The PPT experience is very trying, the Keynote experience is pretty slick. There are limited changes in Office to embrace the touch screen experience — you have to touch your way thru a myriad of teeny menu choices, in many cases choosing blind since your finger obscures the choice. Turning on Touch Mode (why is this not on by default?) doesn’t help much. Fine movements of the text edit point, fine selections — all super painful via touch. You find yourself jumping back to the arrow keys on the KB or wishing you had bought a little portable mouse.

As one smart observer said to me, “the Office team bet against Win8” by not doing a native Win8 version. Yes it works but compared to what it could have been, it is completely inadequate. Somehow Apple found the time and engineers to do versions of their productivity apps optimized for OSX and for iOS; Microsoft needs to dig deep and do the same. The current Office apps are adequate viewers of content, but I will never use these for any intensive content creation — and they drag along the whole confusing legacy desktop mode, which is pointless on an ARM-based device. Office delivers limited value on these devices, I would wait until MSFT delivers real Win8 versions of the apps. (BTW, I’ve heard some complaints that MSFT didn’t port Outlook. Well I say thank goodness, the Surface Mail and Calendar apps are native Win8 apps and are usable. If I had to use desktop Outlook, that would be bad.)

So: keyboards good, Windows8 looks nice but needs polish, office pointless, marketplace weak. I’d wait to buy, and I’d look hard at other Win8 options.

Different views?

Tracking your Surface shipment

MSFT hasn’t explained this very well — all the first day orders are on their way, but MSFT didn’t explain the tracking process to anyone. To track your shipment, find your Microsoft Store order number (format MS1234567890), strip the MS off the front, go to fedex.com, choose “track by reference”, enter this code as a reference number along with your destination country and zip, and voila, there is your ship status.

Mine shipped the 23rd out of Suzhou, China and arrived in Seattle today. Should be delivered tomorrow.

Hat tip to @OhCompNetworks who got me started in the right direction. I tried calling the MS Store earlier in the day, that was a waste of time, they didn’t seem to have a clue.