Brace Yourselves

A couple of times a year, I sneer at the new hardware and software announcements coming out of Apple and Google. Microsoft may not be on the same regular announcement schedule, but that shouldn’t exempt them from scorn. I’m an equal-opportunity sneerer, so, without further ado, here’s my take on yesterday’s announcements.

To nobody’s surprise, the Surface Book is getting an upgrade. Faster CPU, faster graphics, larger battery. All the usual tweaks when a device gets an upgrade. Oh, and a price upgrade as well: $2399. If I paid that much for a laptop or two-in-one, I’d be afraid to take it out of the house. But maybe that’s just me.

Then there’s the Surface Studio. That’s Microsoft’s first attempt at an all-in-one computer. It’s aimed squarely at graphics professionals: the 4500×3000 pixel, 28-inch touchscreen is large enough to do 4K video editing with both the video display and the editor interface on the same screen. Imagine what you could do in Photoshop with that much uninterrupted screen real estate. And, I’ll admit, the sheer flexibility of the monitor stand is astounding.

For what you get, the $2999 price tag on the low-end model seems almost reasonable, but if you want the full-blown, top-of-the-line experience, be prepared to come up with $4199. At that price, you might want to consider picking up the Surface Book i7 instead and pairing it with a third-party external monitor. You could probably manage three-quarters as much performance for half the price.

Given its target market, it’s not surprising that the Surface Studio comes with a Studio Stylus. But it doesn’t come with the new Surface Hockey PuckDial. I blame Apple for this Microsoft innovation. The gang from Cupertino made such a big deal about the interface on the Apple Watch, with all that crown twisting, that Microsoft felt compelled to bring a twist interface to the desktop. Because who wouldn’t want to replace that horrible Alt-Tab combination to switch among running apps with a simple twist of the wrist? How about scrolling pages, changing volume, or undoing commands without touching your mouse? It’s cute; I’ll grant them that much. But I’m not seeing the usability gain here. How is moving your hands from keyboard to puck any better than moving them from keyboard to mouse or keyboard to stylus? Artistically-inclined folks, your thoughts?

Finally, there’s the upcoming “Creator’s Update” to Windows 10. This is the Spring successor to this past July’s “Anniversary Update” and the big enhancements are in exactly the areas you would expect: 3D, VR, and people.

Wait, what?

The 3D and VR enhancements are completely understandable. Apple and Google are putting heavy emphasis on them, so Microsoft has to keep up. But people? According to Microsoft, the idea is to make sharing and communicating more central. For example, they’re working from the idea that when you see something neat, you don’t think, “Hey, I should share that with Lisa.” In reality, they say you think “Hey, Lisa would love that. I should send it to her.”

So, Lisa is going to get her own space on your taskbar. Well, Lisa and all of your other “important contacts.” The idea is that you’ll drag the document you want to share to the contact, instead of finding a “share” link in your program and then hunting through that program’s address list to find the person you want.

Interesting idea, but the implementation seems fraught with peril. I suspect that Cortana is going to decide which of your contacts are important; Microsoft’s track record suggests that overruling her may not be simple. Be prepared to argue with her over whether the prime real estate should go to “Mom,” “Boss,” or “Sweetie”.

Oh, and there’s also going to be a new popup window to show all of the messages from a contact in one place. Any bets on whether this will make it easier to uninstall Skype? I didn’t think so. Hopefully this will be a “right-click and select” popup, not a “move the mouse over” popup. Do you really want every e-mail, text message, and phone call you’ve had with Mom appearing onscreen while you’re making a presentation to the rest of your team?

Creator’s Update builds will start showing up in the beta channels this week. Brace yourselves.

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