Given that there's recently been a lot of publicity about the Microsoft Surface, I'm certain that some of my readers may be considering purchasing one or more for their business computing needs.
If so, you're making a huge mistake. Because the Surface is based upon Windows, it is, and will remain, inherently unstable and insecure. That's because Windows itself is a security and stability nightmare.
A Typical Horror Story
A few days ago, I was forced to spend an hour on the phone and $99 in support fees because my Windows 7 desktop, which is less than a year old, had somehow acquired a "root kit" virus.
For the record, this is a computer that has never been run without full virus protection, has automatic updating turned on, and has never had any program installed on it that wasn't specifically purchased from a reputable software vendor.
Both the Microsoft support technician and the support technician from the anti-virus company Avast told me that "there is no way that any anti-virus program can completely protect your computer."
Actually, I knew this already because I used to work in an operating system development group. One thing I learned back then is that any OS that allows applications to modify the OS will be inherently unstable and insecure.
Since Windows is designed to allow that to happen, both computer viruses and the gradual "rot" of the software installed on a Windows system are both inevitable. There is no way to fix the problem because it's inherent in Windows's design.
Beneath the Surface
Microsoft's track record in handhelds, phones and tablets is so horrible that, in my humble opinion, it would be nuts to bet your business upon the chance that Microsoft "might get it right" this time.
Consider: Microsoft's failures in this market include Windows CE (1996), Windows Tablets (since 2001) the Zune (2006), not to mention the Kin (2010), a device that despite massive advertising reportedly sold only 500 units.
The handheld/tablet/phone market simply isn't part of Microsoft's DNA. The fact that the Surface is layered atop Windows hybrid only increases the danger that Microsoft will pull off another huge failure.
It's a truism in software design that adding complexity to an unstable program always increases its instability. Because of this, it is inevitable that the Surface environment will experience even more security and stability problems than previous versions of Windows.
What's the Alternative?
Not to put to fine a point on it, the answer is: "anything other than the Surface."
What about the Windows applications that you use out of habit? Aren't they worth considering Surface? A growing number of people don't think so, especially after they've been exposed to an alternative.
According to a recent survey of iPad users conducted by the sales technology firm Brainshark, the most common business uses for the iPad are checking work emails (82%), doing Web research (72%), viewing or delivering presentations (74%), and almost half (46%) use iPads for "business apps."
The Brainshark study also revealed that 89% of iPad owners take their iPad when traveling on business and more than one out of three of these travelers only bring an iPad and leave their laptop at home. Almost two-thirds of iPad owners would rather lose their laptop than their iPad.
While the majority of iPad owners (92%) say the device currently supplements their laptop, more than half (51%) believe that their iPad will be their primary computing device within the next two years.
I'm a case in point. While I'm still using a Windows machine for most of my writing, I'm serious thinking of "taking the leap" to only using my iPad simply to avoid the support headaches that are inevitable with Windows.
In short, the Surface is doomed because the entire concept behind it is flawed. Even plain Windows is getting so old and creaky that it's getting to be more a bother than its worth.
Even if the Surface were the Ferrari of tablet environments (which it's not) overlaying an extra user interface atop Windows is like bolting a Ferrari body to the rusted out chassis of a 1985 Pontiac.
UPDATE: Just to clarify, I'm well aware that Windows RT is based on ARM architecture and that the stability and security problems with the mainstream Windows operating system may not recur in that environment.
However, in order to be viable as a new tablet architecture, the Surface will need to quickly attract a plethora of apps. Microsoft's plan to make that happen crutches on compatibility between the tablet-like layer atop Windows 8 and the Surface's OS.
There is no question in my mind that Windows 8 will continue to be unstable and insecure because it's part of the architecture and the addition of the tablet-like interface will make supporting Windows even more Byzantine.
The sales growth in tablets over the past two years has been monumental. An increasing number of people are seeing them as laptop and even desktop replacements.
The question is how long are people willing to tolerate the complexity of mainstream Windows when there are better alternatives. This is a problem that the Surface does not really address, which is why I believe it's doomed.
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