Installing Windows 8.1 on Surface Pro

Detailed below is my experience installing Windows 8.1 on my Surface Pro, though I describe my Two Cents on tablets first and the Surface Pro specifically. :)

You can't read more than two sentences in the industry press these days without coming across a reference to the whole mobility and tablet revolution. I'm very familiar with the IT Hype Cycle, that promises New Technology A is going to solve all your problems. Tablets et al seem like a classic case of hype before ultimately just becoming another piece of our daily lives with problems left to solve.

I got my hands on a Surface Pro tablet when I was in Seattle for the MVP Summit last February. There have been occasions when I've used an iPad at work, but I never saw an opportunity to do anything other than consume content on it. Since my raison d'etre is to produce content and applications I never found them useful. (Amusingly the only client company I ever saw iPods in widespread use was a company in Switzerland that practically runs itself due to the nature of the product. As a result the employees run around *trying* to look busy all the time but I distinctly saw people using tablets to Facebook away their working day which seemed to prove my point :D ).

As usual I digress. So I got hold of a Surface Pro as I considered it the most likely tablet that I was going to be able to produce something on. Also it was designed for Windows 8, and presumably offered the best experience of that O/S - which would allow a fair assessment of a much maligned product.

For mobility the Surface Pro was excellent of course. Battery life was really not bad, maybe 4-5 hours of light use between recharges. (Surface RT is of course more than that, but a very different product). The i5 processor in the Pro allowed me to run fully fledged versions of MS Office locally. This was nice, but when using Office I really missed having a mouse. The touch screen gestures allow you to hold the screen for 2-3 seconds to emulate a mouse right click, which is something I use a lot. It really wasn't as nice as just using a mouse though!

There was one USB port, so you can use that or the pad on an optional keyboard/cover to do your mouse gestures. It all feels somewhat inadequate though. Actually, to cut to the chase I started to write this article on my Surface Pro, got a crick in my neck and reverted to larger device. I've really tried, but tablets are still a device for consumption of information. Producing information, even just taking meeting minutes there are barriers (such as missed keypresses when you type) that mean pen and paper are better.

I hope that the situation improves with further innovation, but otherwise my next device purchase is going to be a 32Gb i7 17" laptop. End of story.

This particular piece of writing began as commentary on the Windows 8.1 install. My experience might be slightly different from the average consumer in that I downloaded the install as an ISO image from MSDN. How will general consumers bag their Win 8.1 upgrade I don't currently know. Double clicking the ISO image mounted it as a virtual DVD drive in Windows 8, and it was then just a matter of clicking OK, yes, whatever until the install finished a few minutes later. Easy as pie. Anticlimax huh?

There's certainly no revolution with this 8.1 update. I got the fabled 'Start Button' which just provided a way to switch between the desktop and tile views more readily. Actually I found that after the update GMail no longer worked well in IE, and some web pages that used to work OK now freeze quite often. In a sense I'm regretting my upgrade as for the tablet user I feel I got nothing out of it. Looking at the specifications it reads to me like this was aimed at the desktop audience.

I like to be positive but as probably comes across here, hands on use has not left me feeling the love for the Tablet, touch, and Windows 8.1 revolution. The portability is great, but production of content is severely constrained. The 8.1 update itself seemed slightly regressive to me. The most beneficial thing I've done to get used to Windows 8 is read the manual for a few minutes to learn what gestures I can use to achieve what. If you have Windows 8 those few minutes reading that will make you a much happier user. You can download a pdf here or see a visual guide here.

Happy erm.. Tabletting.

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