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Microsoft's Surface RT will make even a fanboy cry

Galen Gruman | Oct. 31, 2012
Is it a laptop or a tablet? The Surface makes a valiant attempt at being both -- but leaves you yearning for one or the other

For HTML5 compatibility, IE10 also underperforms compared to other desktop and mobile browsers, even though it is the most HTML5-savvy version of IE yet.

If you think you'll use a Surface tablet to access corporate and other "rich" Web apps, think again. They may not work. Microsoft has long made IE incompatible with the Web at large, but given its efforts to converge IE with the standard Web, it's very disappointing to see that IE10 falls so far short.

App selection disappointsThe rest of the software provided on the Surface are Metro apps, lightweight widgets that are much less capable than their iPad counterparts. Two you're likely to use often, though, are serviceable: Mail and Calendar. That's a good thing because Outlook isn't part of the Surface's Office suite and can't be added. In fact, you can't install any traditional Windows apps beyond what Microsoft has preloaded (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, IE10, and File Manager).

I noticed a bug in Mail: When you first try to use Mail, it crashes on launch. And it keeps doing so. The fix is to open Calendar first and set up your account. I thought the issue might be related to one of Mail's biggest flaws -- its lack of support for POP email accounts -- because my Microsoft account's email address is tied to a POP email account, but I had the exact same problem on a full Windows 8 laptop joined to my corporate domain and not my Microsoft account. There too I had to set up Calendar before Mail would launch. Others have reported the same problem.

Once Mail is running, it does a good job of displaying your email in each account you have, but it can't show you a unified inbox as iOS and Android Mail apps can. The biggest trick to using Mail -- or any Metro app -- is to know to open the App bar at the bottom of the screen to get the equivalent of a menu of options for whatever is selected or active. A swipe from the top of the screen or from the bottom will do that, as will the shortcut Windows-Z.

Calendar is likewise serviceable, offering the core capabilities you'd want for managing appointments, such as handling invitations. What you can't do is set complex meeting patterns, as you can in Outlook (but not in iOS or in most Android clients).

The most intriguing Metro app is People, a combination of contacts manager and social media monitoring tool. It's not a substitute for a Twitter or Facebook app, which let you monitor the full conversation set, but it's a handy way to see what a specific person is posting across multiple services.

 

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