Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Microsoft Surfacing

November 2015

By Mike Gould

I’ve said it before: Microsoft (MS) makes great hardware. To put that heresy (I am, after all, a notorious Mac user) in context, I was kinda damning the Windows OS with faint praise at the time. Mainly, I was praising the Microsoft Intellimouse, which I am using as I write this to scoot my cursor around on its appointed rounds.

I hear good things about their keyboards as well, although I’ve never used one – I used to support typists with repetitive stress syndrome who used the MS Ergonomic keyboard, back in my UM computer support days. The RSS sufferers said the unit was a big help in relieving the symptoms of Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, etc.

And now MS is making tablet computers and, just announced the first week of October 2015, a tablet/laptop hybrid called the Surface Book. This is an event of tectonic proportions in the computer industry, for a number of reasons covered below. Read on and weep with shock and awe.

MSB vs. MBP
First, what is the Microsoft Surface Book (MSB)? As I said, it is a hybrid device: it is a powerful laptop with a detachable screen. Take off the screen, and the screen becomes a tablet. This is not new, as devices from Asus, HP and Lenovo have offered this feature for the last couple of years or so. In fact, most computer manufacturers with the exception of Apple are on board with this, and Apple is coming around with their new iPad Pro that features an optional keyboard.

And speaking of Apple, the MSB is being called a Mac Book Pro (MPB) killer, in that it matches up features and price pretty closely with the MPB. The MSB is not a cheap laptop; it starts at around $1500 for the low-end model on Amazon right now, which is right around the same price as a similarly-spec’ed MPB. It will be really interesting to see how Apple responds to this; my guess is not very actively. Mac fans are a loyal lot and I don’t see them deserting the platform to get a Windows device that is detachable.

The MSB is gorgeous to look at, and could easily be mistaken for an Apple product: silvery metal, backlit keys, sloping shape, but with a really neat hinge mechanism that allows the screen to flip around at various angles. According to reports, the keys are pretty stiff and take some getting used to. And the precision fit and finish that Apple is famous for is missing; there is a gap between the screen and the keyboard. Definitely not a Jonathan Ive design.

A Slice of the Apple Playbook
To me, the most interesting change is that MS is now getting into the hardware computer business, something they’ve never done before (aside from the tablet end of things). The strength of the Tao of Apple has always been their complete control of the platform, from hardware to operating system to apps (via the Apple Store and native Apple apps like Final Cut Pro and the like). Vertical integration, big time.

Note that this can also be a weakness, in that you can’t build your own Mac from off the shelf parts as you can with a PC. Hence the shortage of Mac hardware geeks in the world. But by controlling the entire experience, Apple relieves consumers from sorting through the bewildering variety of PC hardware and add-ons that may or may not work together smoothly.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has up to now preferred to make their money from their operating system (Windows) and their apps (primarily, the Office Suite of Word, Excel, Power Point, etc.), leaving the hardware to their partners, the HPs, Dells, and Lenovos of the world. This has gone by the wayside, with MS now competing directly with their partners.

Trouble in the Channels
And here is where it gets really interesting: Dell and HP recently signed a deal to sell MS’s Surface Pro tablet from their stores, which in fact competes with the Dell Venu Pro and the HP Envy models. And now, HP and Dell say they will also sell the MSP, which directly competes with several of their own laptops.

This is all new as I write, and it will be interesting to see how it shakes out at the Big Box retailers. Do they tout the HP and Lenovo products they’ve always sold, or start pointing customers to the new Microsoft offerings? Ditto with enterprise channel suppliers, those who are OEM suppliers to business and industry. As one pundit put it, “It’s going to be an interesting Christmas [sales season]”.

Lasers on the Desktop
And now for something completely different, yet sorta the same: Microsoft’s operating system, Windows 10. Well, the desktop logo for same. It is called the “Hero Desktop Image”. It was created by a combination of video graphics software and actual, real-live lasers, which were controlled from the same software I use to do our laser lightshows. The software is called “Beyond” and is made by a company called Pangolin. There is a video about how it was made on Youtube, URLs below.

For me, this almost takes the sting out of the Windows phones they call “Lumia”. Lumia is a term that has been around in artistic circles since the 1930’s, when it was coined by light artist Thomas Wilfred. It currently describes a wispy sort of laser light that is the linchpin of my art. It has nothing at all to do with phones, and I am delighted that MS’s phone biz is tanking. Hah!

Windows 10 Hero Desktop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=1&v=hL8BBOwupcI http://www.pangolin.com/microsoft-windows-10-logo/

Mike Gould is not particularly interested in buying a Surface Book, but is in lust with the iPad Pro. He was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a laser artist, performs with the Illuminatus 3.0 Laser Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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