I’m writing this on a Windows 8 desktop I built two weeks ago, I travel with a Microsoft Surface tablet, and carry a Nokia 920 Microsoft phone. In short, I’m living in a wall-to-wall Microsoft world. I’ve discovered some pretty cool aspects of operating this way, and some minor disappointments. To get the real benefit, I’m slowly changing the way I work to use SkyDrive more, and use Skype better. I’m also getting a little annoyed that Surface doesn’t support Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and won’t take a second browser.
Let me walk you through what I love and hate about living totally within the Microsoft ecosystem.
Adding a new device is a cakewalk
When you buy a new current-gen device, you simply sign in with your Microsoft ID (the one you use for MSN or Hotmail) and most of your stuff is automatically configured. Legacy software doesn’t come across, but if you bought an app through the app store, you can either automatically get the apps you purchased (generally at no additional charge) or you’ll be offered an upgrade to the current version for a typically small price. If you’ve ever done a prior migration in Windows, it was typically a several-day initial process, then about a month of getting things back to where you wanted them. Now most of the personality stuff migrates automatically. While I think Chrome still retains more settings on the browser side, Internet Explorer is much improved, too.
Living on the phone camera
Windows Phone can be put into camera mode and upload the pictures to the cloud – SkyDrive in this case – faster than any competing product. In addition, the Nokia 920’s camera is, in my opinion, the best in the market in terms of picture quality. This combination makes the phone much more useful than any portable camera or phone I’ve had before, even earlier Windows phones. People really can’t tell my pictures come from a camera phone. I’ll admit it could have a better flash (the Samsung S3 has a flash that could likely kill vampires), but the camera itself is excellent.
The Lumia 920 also feels far quicker getting to stuff than on other phones. This is hugely important if I’m driving and need to check on an address, or put the phone into GPS mode to find a Starbucks. It likely has saved my life a couple times – had I tried this on most phones, I’d likely be parked in someone’s trunk.
The Surface tablet is amazing
I just love this tablet. The combination of extremely low weight and extremely long battery life has been a godsend. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to love an ARM-based PC product, but the Surface has turned me around. It boots up and shuts down quickly, I don’t even notice it in my backpack, and connected to SkyDrive, it has all the capacity I need. I’m still learning to remember to put my movies on an SD card to take them with me, but this process is still typically far faster than copying them over the network to a laptop anyway.
Some things still need fixing
First, why doesn’t SkyDrive come preinstalled? It’s a core feature on every platform, so why do I have to download and install it, then tell the app who I am? Windows and SkyDrive share a user name and password, so why won’t it log me in automatically?
Second, neither the Surface tablet nor Windows Phone support VPNs. This can be problematic for travelers, who sometimes need VPNs to connect to services that aren’t designed to work overseas, like Skype, Amazon and Netflix. I understand that there are better security products Microsoft prefers, but not having a VPN creates a usability issue.
Third, why not move all of the passwords and IDs you have stored on IE to all of your browsers? Chrome does this, so if IE won’t, I should at least be allowed to load Chrome on my tablet, but I can’t. IE doesn’t work well on all sites anymore, so having a second browser has become a survival mechanism.
Finally, Office should have been a Modern UI app. While the mail client on the Surface works fine, it also works differently than Outlook, creating confusion. Furthermore, transferring settings between Office versions, or having to set up each version of Office manually shouldn’t be necessary anymore. It feels like Office was mostly left in last decade with the new 2013 version.
Nice work, Microsoft
While Microsoft’s latest suite of products come with some annoyances, they work together much better than they used to, when all the interfaces were different and Microsoft products only worked better together in some marketing guy’s head. The improvements are pronounced, and both the phone and tablet have comes miles from where they were. With a few – OK more than a few – improvements, this platform could be so much better than anything else out there. Here’s hoping the fixes come soon.
Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.