There was plenty of enthused anticipation — and not a small amount of confusion too — when Microsoft brought out its Surface tablet computer last October. The slim and light touch-friendly tablet was the very first personal computer that Microsoft built itself, and was an early showcase for Windows 8.
That initial Surface actually ran a variant of Windows 8 software known as Windows RT, and included specialized but complete versions of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote), as well as some other integrated apps. But it was generally light on third party apps. And chief among its drawbacks was the fact that Surface RT was incompatible with all the programs that are on your older Windows computers, a turnoff for some folks who might have been otherwise inclined to buy what is in many respects an impressive piece of engineering. Such people were counseled instead to wait about three months for the full Windows 8 version of the machine.
They won’t have to wait much longer. Microsoft has just announced that Surface Windows 8 Pro, as it’s being called, will be available in the U.S. and Canada on Feb. 9, at a starting price of $899. Surface RT, by contrast, starts at $499. The new Surface will be sold through all Microsoft retail stores, microsoftstore.com, Staples and Best Buy, and made available in 64GB and 128GB configurations. It will include a pen you can draw or jot notes with, and function either as a tablet or a laptop. It houses an Intel Core i5 processor.
Microsoft designed Windows 8 so it works on what we think of as traditional PCs as well as tablets. The one-size-fits-all thinking is how Surface was conceived. But the approach carries risks. It’s worth noting rival Apple took a decidedly different approach with the iPad and its Macs — Apple keeps the iOS and OS X operating systems separate.
Like Surface RT, the Pro version will let you take advantage of optional “Touch Covers,” clever outer cases that double as surprisingly usable Qwerty-style keyboards. Microsoft says three new Limited Edition Touch Covers are coming, in red, magenta and cyan, for about $130 each. A $70 Wedge Touch Mouse for Surface with “four-way” scrolling is another new option.
In a blog post announcing the news, Microsoft Surface General Manager Panos Panay, refers to Surface Windows 8 Pro as a “powerful, work-ready device that is just at home in the boardroom as it is the family room.” I’ll let you know if I agree once I’ve had chance to put Surface Pro through its full paces.