Microsoft Surface RT: The Sad Treadmill Of Overhyped Expectations

While I’m loath to point to certified Apple nerds like Marco Arment and Gruber in regards to Windows Surface (in this case the RT edition) I think it’s important that we all take a step back and assess what really happened: Microsoft rushed to market with a product that was, at best, shoddy.

To be clear, I think the form factor is the future of computing. I agree with Jeff Atwood that the Surface has goosed the moribund laptop industry and that the addition of a keyboard to a more powerful tablet is the way forward.

I’ve used devices running stock Win 8 and despite the obvious disconnect between Metro (I’m calling it Metro because it sounds cooler) and Desktop, I find Win8 to be a solid OS and an amazing step forward. General acceptance will be slow, but the value proposition, especially in unifying the Win8/WinPhone worlds, is there.

But here we go: Microsoft, in their ham-handed way, launched their worst product first. And the die-hards are out in force raging against the unfair treatment RT received at the hands of critics who are quite obviously in Apple’s pocket (like our own Matt Burns who has used Windows for most of his career). Even Marco attests that the hardware is beautiful but the processor is too slow and the OS too wonky to warrant being Microsoft’s tent pole for the remainder of this year. When Chris Pirillo is against you (kind of), who can be for you?

Microsoft has the unfortunate tendency of doing two things during launch. First, they overhype and overshare, creating a bonfire of excitement that is immediately extinguished. Then they release things that were designed by a committee of people dedicated to their own causes. The compatibility guys want the desktop (Atwood retorts: “Yeah, yeah, it doesn’t run x86 apps. So your beloved copy of Windows Landscape Designer 1998 won’t run on Surface RT. You’ll need to wait a few months for Surface Pro to do that, but you’ll pay the Intel Premium™ in price, battery life, and size.”) The UI fiends want Metro front and center. The marketing guys want an iPad. The Office folks want backwards compatibility with Multi-Tool Word For Xenix. Then they all sit down and do work not related to the end goal. For example, the reviewers’ guide to Windows Phone, launched concurrently with Win8, was about 275 pages. That’s most of a team’s summer. Perhaps those man hours would be better served in getting the real Surface to market at a Surface RT price?

In short, Microsoft knows the PC industry is tepid at best. Aside from the arms races in financial computing and gaming, there is very little to compel the average user to upgrade. Win8 will fulfill most of that compunction but by launching a product that wasn’t indicative of its strengths is a big problem. Looky-loos and tire kickers will see everyone from Pogue to Burns saying that the Surface is great but it isn’t and they’ll be scared off for at least two hardware generations. Then fanboys will flame posts like this one and attempt to justify their purchase until they concede, quietly, that this wasn’t the non-Droid they were looking for.

The same, arguably, can be said for the original iPhone. It was weird-looking, had no apps, and was generally underpowered. However, as a first-gen product it defined the way forward. The Surface RT, on the other hand, defines the bottom end of the Win8 platform and, as every country singer knows, you don’t start out your set with a sad song… you start out with a barn burner.