Considering how much Microsoft has riding on the successful introduction of Windows 8 and the Surface Tablet, the launch event on Oct. 25 was almost laid back.
Various Microsoft executives came out to talk about the new products, explained their use and conducted extensive show-and-tell sessions. In the process, they demonstrated how Windows 8 works on legacy and new computers as well as how it performs on tablets.
What wasn’t obvious from the surprisingly calm atmosphere at the launch event was that Microsoft is essentially betting the company on the success of the many forms of Windows 8. While a failure of Windows 8 probably wouldn’t cause Microsoft to close its doors, it would have a catastrophic impact on the company’s future profitability and growth. But there was none of the frenetic energy of, say, the typical Apple launch.
This isn’t to suggest there weren’t plenty of superlatives flying around. “These are the best PCs ever made,” was said several times. Some of the other comments heard from Microsoft executives were that the Surface kickstand has the feel of opening and closing the door of a high-end car. The Surface as a moment of inertia that’s low enough that it feels much lighter than its pound and a half. The magnesium case feels and looks like a fine watch.
A lot of emphasis was placed on the quality of the Surface’s construction. Apparently it can be dropped from great heights without damage. One Microsoft engineer glued skateboard wheels on the tablet and went skateboarding with it. That’s something you can’t do with an iPad. Actually, you can’t drop an iPad from any significant height either—I know—I’ve got kids with iPads.
But mostly the Surface introduction was about Windows 8. You could see that the Windows 8 interface was clearly intended for a touch-screen device. Touch the screen with one thumb and a row of what Microsoft is calling “charms” shows up. Then you can invoke a search or run the Control Panel. Touch the other side with your thumb and you can scroll through the installed apps on the device.
Microsoft also went to great lengths to show something else the Surface can do that the iPad can’t really pull off. You can split the screen and have two apps running. Windows continues to be fully multitasking. This is more than just playing music while you type. This is two apps operating normally, side by side. Other apps can operate in the background or within tiles. You can, if you wish, open several and then try to find your way through all of the Windows.