A look back at where we've been and a search for signs of what's coming next
The Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro began shipping four years ago this month and to commemorate the occasion, I’m writing this post on my 2013 device.
Trying to reconstruct the timeline of the original Surface Pro isn’t easy. It was unveiled alongside the Surface for Windows RT in July, 2012 (see video right), but that tablet ended up getting most of the attention because it represented such a radical departure for Microsoft.
Even at the October 2012 release of Windows 8, the talk was all about RT.
By the time the Pro finally arrived a few months later, negative press attention to Windows 8, RT and the Surface had already started mounting.
I too had been disappointed by the limitations of the RT OS and hardware, but for very different reasons than most tech pundits. I didn’t want the new Windows to be more like its desktop predecessors, I wanted it to be more iPad-like. And I was disappointed that capacitive styluses that were so responsive on the iPad were so imprecise on the RT.
Although I’d been computing for decades, this new world of touch and pen input was entirely new to me and it was obvious that the traditional sources of tech information were not going to be much help. I was going to have to figure this out on my own.
The first generation Surface Pro seemed to address all the shortcomings of the RT, but would it be useful for running professional art applications? I took the leap of faith that it could and bought mine on the first day it went on sale.
As I gradually became familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the platform, I scoured software forums for any compatibility discussions and hardware or OS tweaks I could find. I naively thought that major software developers like Adobe or Autodesk would go out of their way to insure that their applications would run on the new hardware, or that Microsoft would have known to seed those companies with test units. Perhaps that was the case behind the scenes, but in the first half of 2013, all a new user would hear was virtual crickets.
So four years ago this week, I registered the domain SurfaceProArtist.com and the blog debuted in early March, 2013. I didn’t know what to expect. I assumed there were others out there interested in answering the same questions that I encountered. I knew this would be a narrow niche, but would anyone ever find it? Better yet, did anyone care what I (at best a digital art enthusiast) had to say about it?
I still ask myself the same questions today. With an average monthly audience the size of a small tech site’s daily visitors, SurfaceProArtist.com will never be a money maker. I’ve even given up on breaking even. Any revenue from Google ads or Amazon affiliate links is better than none but barely enough to keep the lights on.
I’m happy to have shared as much information as I have over the last four years and I’m pleased to know that many of you have found it useful.
Going back over my earliest posts, I see that I never published an official review of the Surface Pro 1. The Pro 2 was released only seven months after the site launched and like most early adopters, I have a tendency to focus only on the new or what’s waiting around the corner.
But here it is four years later and my SP1 is still going strong. I have it updated to Windows 10 Pro. I plan to install the Creators Update when it’s released in the spring.
There are niggling issues that were fixed in later versions: the single position kickstand, the flat keyboard cover, the thickness and weight of the tablet and its squat 16:9, 10.6-inch display. But the pen response is excellent. The FHD IPS display is still bright and crisp. 4 GB RAM and 256 GB SSD are still adequate for daily use. And the 1.7 GHz Core i5-3317U CPU is up to most tasks.
If the Surface Pro 1 was the only Windows tablet PC I ever owned, I’d still be happy with it and I know several readers who do still use theirs on a daily basis.
The Surface line made Windows computers interesting again and it’s gratifying to see that four years later, the rest of the world seems to be coming to the same realization!
With Windows’ pen and creative capabilities being marketed to the mainstream now, it’s beginning to feel like our work here is done. I don’t intend to do any more hardware reviews unless the test devices are loaned by manufacturers. (We’ll see how my resolve holds up when the Surface Pro 5 is released later this year).
Precious little is known about what Microsoft, Panos Panay, Steven Bathiche and company have in store for us. I think it's a safe bet that the new Surface Pro 5 and Surface Book 2 will use Wacom's new dual protocol pen technology, but besides tilt support and reduced jitter, I have a hard time imagining anything more than evolutionary improvements.
Even if I end up having to skip this upcoming generation, I’ll definitely continue to post news, tips and software reviews here. So please turn off your ad blockers, tell your friends and check back here often. The release of the Windows 10 Creators Update and new hardware will mark a momentous occasion for Surface and Windows creatives. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.