The Surface Pro gets all of the attention but its little brother packs a serious punch for a much smaller price tag. The Surface 2 differs from most devices by running the Windows RT 8.1 OS. Put bluntly, most of your negative impressions of RT are wrong. In fact, I would make the case that the Surface RT could be your (or your user’s) primary device!

Joseph Moody

Joseph Moody is a network admin for a public school system and helps manage 5,500 PCs. He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in Cloud and Datacenter Management and blogs at DeployHappiness.com.

The Bad, the good, and the really good ^

The big white elephant in the room is that a Windows RT device can’t be joined to a domain. The next common complaint is application compatibility. Only Windows Store apps can be installed on it. The final major issue is device support. Only peripherals designed for Windows RT can be connected. There are some other smaller limitations but these three are the hurdles you’ll face in IT.

Surface RT 2

Surface RT 2

With so many conditions, why on earth would you want to use a Surface 2? Why would you ever want to give it to your users? In short – the Surface 2 is an extremely lightweight tablet that is powerful enough to act as a laptop. It has a 10 hour battery life, a full USB 3.0 port, and 200 GB of SkyDrive storage that is condensed into an incredibly small device.

System Info on Surface RT

System Info on Surface RT

Oh, did I mention the price? $449 without a keyboard. $580 with a backlit type keyboard. When compared to any other major competitor, the Surface RT comes in cheaper and allows more functionality.

The Type Backlit Keyboard for Surface

The Type Backlit Keyboard for Surface

Can the Surface RT replace the laptops of your users? ^

If your users are comfortable with a Windows 8 device, switching to Windows RT 8.1 will not be a difficult transition for them. From a user perspective, the major drawback of Windows RT is application compatibility. If your users are already standard users, they likely will never run into this drawback because they can’t install applications to begin with.

Windows RT 8.1 is much more than the Start Screen and the Windows Store. It supports a full desktop, Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, and Office 2013 RT. Office 2013 RT now even includes Outlook and OneNote! All apps all behave the same as the Office Professional Plus 2013 desktop applications. For a list of missing features please read Microsoft’s Office 2013 RT FAQ.

The traditional version of IE and Office run on Windows RT

The traditional version of IE and Office run on Windows RT.

For many of my end users, Office + Internet Explorer represent the only applications that they use during the day. In fact, many of our departments will purchase laptops for certain users to bring between work and home. Including licensing, these laptops cost around $1,200. Substituting Surface RTs would save some serious money! If your users travel often, they will likely find the Surface RT to be a big improvement over the heavier laptop.

Can the Surface RT replace your laptop? ^

Windows RT 8.1 also includes most of the IT applications that you use every day. This includes Command Prompt, PowerShell, Notepad and native Remote Desktop (mstsc). This last application is important because it means you can run any required traditional application as a RemoteApp!

Terminal Services RemoteApp allow you to stream applications from a machine that can actually run them. In the past, this technology has been very useful with OS version compatibility. Now it can be used to extend application support across OS architecture.

You might be wondering why you should use a workaround like this when you could just buy a laptop or Surface Pro. When I bought a Surface RT for my wife, I thought the same thing. I already owned a Surface Pro and never thought I would use an RT device. But time and time again, I find myself reaching for the Surface RT when I need to work or when travelling.

It’s instant on, always connected, and mobile device like accessibility makes it incredibly easy to use. With its feather-like weight and long battery life, it never seems like a chore to bring along. Finally, it does a wonderful job of combining the intuitive nature of touch with the practicality of a keyboard. I find myself using the touch interface as an effortless replacement for a mouse (and now long for a touch screen when I have to use a laptop or desktop). Convenience is why I have come to love the Surface RT.

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13 Comments
  1. Marc 6 years ago

    Special pleading from MS. Not convinced, I'm sorry. Windows RT is another attempt to "lock in" users to MS-only software, or the occasional toy application that might be allowed into the store from carefully-chosen providers with no threat to MS revenues.

    Like the appropriately-named WinCE before it, it deserves to die an unmourned death.

    It might be an appropriate device for Corporate Man, locked-down as it is to approved software only, but for any sort of power user, it's a bodge.

    If I want a walled-garden locked-down platform, I'll buy an iBook.

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  2. Michael Pietroforte 6 years ago

    Marc, which tablet doesn't lock in users?

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  3. Marc 6 years ago

    Michael- something with full Windows, or Android would be my choice, depending on application.

    We have an iPad at home, which is OK for "coffee-table browsing", but it's not a serious machine. You can't just stick a file on there, you have to use iTunes, the World's Worst Software (on Windows, at any rate).

    If I can't run *all* my Windows software on a machine, then it's of no interest to me. As for running it remotely - yeah. Like that's gonna happen. *Two* lots of latency *and* double bandwidth bills, so I can run a remote app slowly? I don't think so. Not until we have pervasive gigabit networking everywhere.

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  4. Michael Pietroforte 6 years ago

    That's an interesting definition of "lock in" that Microsoft will probably like. As long as the device can run Windows applications you are not locked in. 😉 But I agree, Windows is still the industry standard.

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  5. Marc 6 years ago

    There's a difference between (a) being able to run software that meets a vendor's spec and (b) being able to run only software that a vendor sells or approves.

    I'm sure MS would *love* to have a platform where you can only run software that's available via their store - and RT looks like their attempt to "do an Apple".

    I have software that I'm sure doesn't run on RT, and probably never will, so it will never be my default device. And I hate hate hate every mail client MS have ever built, and use an alternate, which again I suspect will never have an RT version.

    So, while I take your point, the existing Windows infrastructure is at least "open" to the extent that third parties don't need Microsoft permission to create applications for it (the day they do is the day I sigh heavily and start the slow process of migrating everything to Linux).

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  6. Author
    Joseph Moody 6 years ago

    Hi Marc - I felt the same way about RT when I would work with it for just a bit. When I actually had to use it, my whole opinion changed.

    My work apps mainly consist of Outlook/Onenote, PowerShell, Hyper-V, and RDP. Because of this, adopting RT was a lot easier. Office already runs on RT along with PowerShell and RDP. I was able to sub in Azure for Hyper-V. If you use a lot of custom apps, RT probably wouldn't work as smoothly for you.

    Over all, I found the Surface 2 to be a wonderful device. It combines most of the features of a Windows 8 machine with the portability, instant-on, and long life of a tablet.

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  7. Marc 6 years ago

    Joseph- I do use a load of non-MS apps.

    They're not *custom* apps as such (though there are some things that would match that description) but they're very unlikely to be released as RT versions. So the RT Surface would be an expensive paperweight for me.

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  8. Author
    Joseph Moody 6 years ago

    And when that iPad of yours dies, try out a Surface as a replacement! I think you will find the tablet + some actual work a good mix.

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  9. Michael Pietroforte 6 years ago

    Marc, I think I missed your point. The other day I read about "lock in" with cloud providers. There it usually means that you can't easily move your infrastructure to another provider. So you are locked in with Windows because you can't easily move to another platform where your applications are not available.

    I also think that Microsoft has a different attitude about their app store than Apple. Microsoft allows sideloaded apps and even helps businesses to develop their own apps. I guess if another software vendor would create a new RT store (Amazon perhaps), Microsoft would welcome it. So in this sense Microsoft doesn't lock you in like Apple.

    What you mean is that not all the applications you need are available for RT. This is certainly the main problem of RT at the moment. This will change over time. But I agree with Joseph that the average Office user won't miss much on RT. Isn't Angry Birds already available? 😉

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  10. Marc 6 years ago

    Michael- yes, not all the applications I need are available, and I suspect some will never be,
    I have some *server-class* software installed on my laptop; for development purposes, it runs on Windows 7 pro versions. And I have the client access software to suit (which could plausibly have an RT version, though I know of no plans to port it - I'm not sure how easy it is to cross-compile for RT. I may raise the idea with the vendor).

    I also (as I said) loathe every MS mail client I've ever seen- so I use a product called Agent; I can't see a port to RT any time soon, it's a bit niche.

    I don't see an RT device in my future any time soon, though I could imagine some corporate clients going that way- it's kind of a built-in lockdown, in a way.

    Finally, I *really* dislike the Windows 8 interface. It's clearly designed for tablets etc but is a PITA to use on everything else. If I had a pound for every client I've pointed to the Classic Shell website, I'd be much better off.

    When the day comes when I *have* to move to Windows 8, I'll do whatever it takes to hide that horrid, horrid play-school interface and make it look as much like Win7 as I can.

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  11. Michael Pietroforte 6 years ago

    This "play-school interface" is only an application that runs on top of Windows. You don't have to use this application if you don't want to. Aside from that, there is no real difference between Windows 8 and Windows 7, except that Windows 8 boots up much faster.

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  12. Ron 6 years ago

    Thanks for the interesting real world perspective. I always prefer reading about a hands on experience.

    Your changing opinion about the usability of the RT as you get used to it is interesting and worth considering. I am tempted by the price and tablet convenience, but ...

    I haven't tried the RT for 2 simple reasons. One is that although it "comes with" Office, that Office is crippled. It can't run macros. Unfortunately may daily interaction with word is heavily modified by a set of custom macros I use. I've found that trying to use Word, even on a different full PC, without those macros severely cuts into my productivity.

    The other reason is even more fundamental. I don't have the money to buy one right now . But I keep window shopping reviews like yours.

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  13. Author
    Joseph Moody 6 years ago

    Not a problem Ron! I am glad this review helped you!

    I am lucky in that I do not have to use any extras in Office so I don't notice the few things missing. The money factor is the big reason though! 🙂

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