Open Letter to Microsoft and the Surface team

Let me start by saying that the Surface Pro is one incredible looking machine, and has a clear, clean, simple beauty. I’ve not used one myself, but what I have seen shows me that Microsoft can step up their game compared to the other two of the Big Three.

And as much as I would have liked to, and spent a lot of time salivating and planning to do so, I will not be purchasing a Surface Pro when it is (finally) released in the UK.
I’ll tell you why:

Firstly, the significant delay between the announcement of the hardware and its impending release in the UK has given me a lot of time to look at how I work, and how I’d like to work in the future.
I’m a Digital Media graduate, and verging on the evangelical about digital media production.
I run two distinct systems at the moment for the work I chose to do.
For digital artwork, I use a Fujitsu Siemens Stylistic 5112ST, with RAM upgraded to 4Gb and an upgraded HDD.
For music production I use a home-built AMD PhenomX4, with 4Gb RAM, three HDDs and a passive GPU card all housed in a MidATX tower I’ve kitted out with silent fans to keep it running smooth and quiet.

My future plans are to become fully mobile with both these setups, ideally being able to fit the core kit into a rucksack.
Initially, the Surface Pro looked like it was going to cover me for this, but as I’ve done since my first computer, I only upgrade if there’s a significant factor of improvement either in base spec or weight and size. So I set to work looking the system over. As an AV technician in the arts, my job is to pit together stable, powerful systems that will do their job without compromising quality.

My current systems fail in the following ways;
-My digital sketchbook is too heavy, but apart from that I’m happy with the whole thing. A reduction in parallax would be welcome, as would improved battery life but the system itself offers everything I need.

-My music production system is enormous and totally unportable in a manageable way. The quad core, 4Gb spec is beginning to show its age as compositions become more complex and I use more digital tools in place of physical hardware.

These were the thing I was looking to correct with the Surface Pro so I’ll outline below why I won’t be doing that for now.

The Pro’s connectivity is, while impressive when next to the iPad, woeful when going up against either the Macbook Air or Macbook Pro, both of which fall into similar price categories. If I’m going to spend £1k on a computer, I can find another £300 to get the exact thing I want.
A single USB3 port is not going to cut it for music production. It forces me to take the chance of having my RME Babyface, iLok and then a USB3 drive for recordings on a single bus, with absolutely no way to know its going to work without fronting the cash first. This is simply unacceptable. I haven’t got £1k to gamble with.

128Gb storage and 4Gb RAM might be a good starting point, but without the opportunity to ever upgrade that spec to something more suitable its a massive dropped ball on Microsoft’s part. The absolute minimum I could consider is 8Gb RAM and a 256Gb system drive, and even then it needs a proven connection to an external drive that I could record too.
For digital artwork, the spec is more than fine, its almost overkill. As a Sketchbook user, all I really need is something along the lines of 2-4Gb RAM and a Dual-Core Pentium Celeron. All my files can live on a USB stick, which because the Surface’s SSD isn’t repairable, would limit the risk of losing everything in the instance of a system crash (and let’s not pretend they don’t happen guys).

So what do I think Microsoft could do to improve on Surface next time?

The RT version should be scrapped. Replace it with an Atom equipped unit, and drop the desktop. As far as I can tell, Metro (or Modern if you prefer, which I don’t) no longer needs it. It doesn’t need a Start button either. An Atom powered tablet, running W8 with pressure sensitive pen, 128Gb SSD and 4Gb RAM would destroy the Macbook Air as far as artists are concerned and its the kind of spec I’ll be looking at in the future to replace my Stylistic.

The Pro should have at least the option to upgrade RAM and SSD to double the initial offering and at least one more USB3 and a Thunderbolt port.
If the Pro had that spec, I would no longer be on my way to purchase a Macbook Pro Retina and saving for an ASUS Vivotab.
I’d rather spend more money on equipment that will do the job for me, with posing unnecessary restrictions, than save money and get knee capped in the process.

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