The Surface RT should’ve been the Officebook

Now that I have the Surface Pro 3, my Surface 2 has been gathering dust. So it is with sadness that I finally put it up for sale. The Surface 2 was a wonderful device that exceeded my expectations.

It got me thinking about the Surface line. It’s a great device, yet did so poorly in the perception game. What could Microsoft have done differently with a mulligan?

When the Surface RT was announced, hell had frozen over. Microsoft haters and fans actually agreed on something, that the Surface had no future because of Windows RT. What’s the point of a device that has the limitations of Windows (no tablet apps) and none of its strengths (no PC apps)?

So I got the Surface Pro. With time, however, I realized I only did three things with it: 1) browse the Internet, 2) play media and 3) work with Office. If not for Office, I wouldn’t even need the desktop. Moreover, the Pro was just too thick and heavy.

That’s how I arrived at the Surface 2. The Surface 2 fulfills those three needs well and in an amazingly portable form factor too. It was also a lot cheaper!

What if Microsoft had just branded the Surface as an Office device? Office was (is) the only reason to get a Windows RT device, so why not just go all in on that fact?

Call it the Officebook. It’s the thinnest and lightest portable computer for full Office. It’s not a device for tech geeks; it’s a device for the average consumer with simple requirements, and Office.

Here’s the pitch to someone walking into Best Buy:

Need something that can run Office? The Officebook is designed just for that.

You can carry this thing everywhere: it’s the lightest and thinnest device for Office and it has all day battery life. It’s great for browsing the Internet and watching movies too because you can use it as a tablet. See? And when you want to type in Word just put the keyboard back in. There are also games and other apps too that you can download from the store.

All this for just $499. Keyboard and Office included of course. An amazing price when you consider how thin and light this is compared to that bulky HP laptop there.

Try holding it — see how it feels.

And if they ask:

It doesn’t run full Windows, it’s a special computer Microsoft built just for Office.

I would make a few changes to the software too. There shouldn’t be a desktop per se. It should just be the Modern environment plus Office. Of course, technically, Office will still be in desktop, but casual users don’t need to know that.

On the Start Screen, users tap on the Office tile. They are taken to desktop which looks nothing like the desktop we know — there’s no Windows button, there’s no time and date on the bottom right, no volume control, and so on. There’s only a taskbar — set to combine only when full — reskinned in the Modern flat style with five icons: Outlook, Word, OneNote, Excel and PowerPoint.

OK, make it six with File Explorer, except it’s not File Explorer, it’s Office Explorer and only displays Office files in the user’s directory. Office Explorer is not how you browse photos — go to the Modern Photos app for that. The Office Explorer is just for opening Office documents.

In other words, the desktop is disguised to look like a dedicated Office app. As far as the user is concerned, there is no desktop. There’s just Office.

officebook2

I would not allow users to access the control panel or any other system settings aside from what’s in the Modern side. No command prompt either. There’s only one browser and that’s Modern Internet Explorer.

The Officebook is for the average office person, not the IT geek.

The Officebook won’t be this weird, Frankenstein thing that nobody understands — it would be a device with a clear purpose, a specific target market and backed by a differentiated product that can actually deliver.

It’s obvious why you’d buy the Officebook instead of an iPad or Chromebook. It’s the best portable Office experience you can get for under $500.

I think the Officebook would have done quite OK actually.

2 thoughts on “The Surface RT should’ve been the Officebook

  1. Personally I disagree. If I wanted a “limited tablet” I would just use an iPad or even a cheap Android one. Both possess far superior ecosystem to Modern Windows and both are also good consumption devices. Office is available for both (and for free; at least when I’m writing it now not sure on when this article was published as well though I have yet to use it extensively on either.

    I own a SP2 and an iPad 3 and what I like about the former is the ability to use legacy Windows App. Sure Win 8.1 is far from perfect but it’s that compatibility with the many many old apps that helps. I really much prefer cheap Win 8.1 Tablets (one of which is the Dell Venue 8 Pro, which I also own). I use my iPad 3 as a fun consumption device.

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    1. Hi Yaru, thanks for the comment. The article was written from the perspective of “if I was Microsoft back when there was no Office for iOS/Android.” I agree it’s probably too late now and why we’re not seeing a Surface RT 3.

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