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Microsoft's Surface RT will make even a fanboy cry

Galen Gruman | Oct. 31, 2012
Is it a laptop or a tablet? The Surface makes a valiant attempt at being both -- but leaves you yearning for one or the other

Windows RT, like Windows 8, strongly encourages that you use its SkyDrive cloud storage service, to the extent that Office and other apps have hooks to it built in. If you use a different service, you're out of luck on the Surface. There are no Metro apps for Dropbox or Box as yet, and RT doesn't let you install regular Windows apps; you can't use their existing Windows apps instead. SkyDrive clients are available for iOS, Android, and OS X, so you could consider switching providers to SkyDrive -- but keep in mind that the major productivity apps for iOS do not support direct connection to SkyDrive. You'll find document management a real hassle if you have iOS devices in the mix. If you don't, SkyDrive should work fine, if you're willing to switch.

Windows RT comes with video and music apps, geared to getting you to buy from Microsoft's Xbox online stores. But you can play your own music and videos from those apps; just swipe to the left to find your media libraries. You transfer your files via the File Manager as you would any other files, from a USB device or network-attached storage device or PC. Keep in mind there is nothing like iTunes for Windows RT, and you can't install Apple's iTunes for Windows on it. If you use iTunes on your PC, you can't preserve that library or its playlists on the Surface.

The dearth of Metro apps greatly limits what you can do with the Surface. Right now, it's basically an Office appliance supplemented by basic communications capabilities and a good selection of news, finance, and sports apps. But the Surface falls behind Android and way behind iOS in terms of what you can do with it.

Synchronization and user accounts shineWindows RT (like Windows 8) excels in two areas. One is synchronization if you use a Microsoft account. Your settings sync automatically -- even Wi-Fi passwords -- across devices connected to the same Microsoft account. Your documents sync as well. More syncs across Windows RT and 8 devices than syncs across iOS and OS X devices using Apple's iCloud; if you like iCloud, you'll love Microsoft's version of it.

Windows RT (again, like Windows 8) is unique among tablet OSes in that it supports multiple users per device. Each user has a separate account they log into, with a wholly separate environment for each user. That's great for families and work groups alike. PCs and Macs both offer the same capability, but not iOS or Android devices.

Settings are straightforward, except for networkingThe Settings charm -- Metro's equivalent to a control panel -- offers a simple UI for configuring your Surface, way simpler to use than Windows' Control Panel and even simpler than iOS's and Android's Settings apps. Tap a pane's name, then set the switches as desired. Almost everything is handled through an On/Off switch.


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