Groundhog Day

At the end of Y2K I became an illegal alien.

We’d successfully sold the Motorola business unit, but the new owners didn’t want to sponsor my L1 work visa, so there I was, stranded in Rhode Island, with the clock ticking… 

The serendipitous solution presented itself with an opportunity for a telecoms service provider called IDN, or Inter-Digital Networks. As Marketing Director for IDN, the future looked bright… although by the time I’d landed back with all my goods and chattels, IDN had rebranded to the perhaps more familiar name of Neos Networks.

So, a brand new job and a brand new brand. What were we going to do with this?

The dilemma Neos had was that their business model didn’t provide the investors with the return that they were looking for, and neither did it offer them a way to exit, either by floating or selling. Neos had a London metro network, and sold some SDH. That was pretty much it.

We needed a different business model, and I needed a new car. After much research I ordered through a leasing company an Audi A4 Quattro.

We needed to scale, but to scale up, we needed a national network. The trouble with this was that we’d be very late to market with a data services network – or more precisely with the necessary four networks we’d have to build:

  • An optical underlay network
  • A layer 2 frame relay network
  • A layer 2 ATM network
  • A layer 3 IP network

And all of these would need their own OSS and BSS ecosystems. And all of this came with a pretty huge price tag. Which was all very well as long as there was significant differentiation for us as we were at least 10 years behind all of our potential future competitors, all of which had a proven track record of delivering these services to a demanding and sceptical market.

The order for my Audio Quattro got knocked back as Audi decided to do a model refresh and there would be a bit of a delay, and the car was finally delivered a few months later.

The Solution

Our late entry to the data network services market was in fact fortuitous, precisely because we didn’t have to struggle with the financial consequences of having sunk an awful lot of money into:

  • An optical underlay network
  • A layer 2 frame relay network
  • A layer 2 ATM network
  • A layer 3 IP network

Technology came to our rescue. We realised that the innovation of Metro Ethernet networks could be scaled up to provide a national network, and, when combined with the then recently launched optical LAN Extension Services (LES) tail circuits from BT, would provide a complete end-to-end “optical Ethernet” solution.

The result would be for us a “fully delayed” network, with no legacy technology to complicate either the technical solution or the business case. We could very cost effectively build a national network that offered MPLS and VPLS Ethernet services with bandwidth price point we knew would make our competitors’ eyes water.

And because this new network was entirely Ethernet-based, and so cost-effective, we could provide bandwidth at any speed on 1Mbps increments, from 1Mbps to 1000Mbps. To facilitate this, we provided a “bandwidth dial” on our website that our customers could use to easily turn their bandwidth up and back down again. Not only did we offer fantastic flexibility, the network performance stats were off the chart. We called this Liquidbandwidth™, created a cool logo and thereby a sub-brand, and watched the market react.

This was radical stuff in telecoms back in 2001. 18 months later we’d signed up 59 LiquidBandwidth™ Ethernet customers, with on-net users averaging 92Mbps per order and off-net customers 54Mbps.

We were so successful, we delivered the exit our investors wanted by way of a trade sale to SSE, the energy company.

Back to the future

In Autumn 2015 I became unemployed.

After sucessfully selling Neos to SSE, for a number of years I went freelancing and freewheeling. I raised a small fortune for a webTV venture in a bid to become an internet millionaire, but we didn’t make it. I spent a lot of time in Paris and developed a deep appreciation of the art of the patisserie.

In 2015, I successfully completed a brand refresh for a small IT services company, driving their page rank from the deepest of dark depths to the sunny uplands of sunlit Google visbility. The project ended and there I was with freshly printed P45 in hand, with the clock ticking...

The serendipitous solution presented itself with an opportunity for a telecoms service provider called SSE Enterprise Telecoms. Nigel Pitcher, my old sparing partner from Neos’ No1 competitor Fibrenet, and now SSE Enterprise Telecoms’ Marketing Director, suggested we meet for coffee, cakes and a chat.

And here I am, back at Neos, I mean SSE Enterprise Telecoms, surely the very definition of karma. Some old Neos hands are still here, which is lovely, and it’s interesting to see what SSE Enterprise Telecoms have made of things since I was last here. Our network is larger, much larger, as is the size of our customer base, our revenues and market share. What was sexy and new has become passé and established. Ethernet services are de rigour, everyone offers them.

But here’s the thing. Our investor, our parent company, SSE is a £14 billion market capitalised, A+ credit rated and FTSE top 35 listed energy company, that sees us as being a high growth engine for SSE Group and is prepared to invest to enable that growth.

But to really grow we need to enter a new market, and that means creating new services. And for that we need a different business model, and I need a new car. After much research I ordered through a leasing company an Audi A3 Quattro.

Today most of our revenue comes from the wholesale market. We offer dark fibre, lit fibre and fantastic Layer 2 Ethernet services, using MPLS and VPLS, building on what we started all those years ago at Neos. Even so, that’s pretty much it.

How are we going to create new services and what will our new business model be? We believe technology will come to our rescue.

The buzz in telecoms this time around is all about Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) and Software Defined Networks (SDN). We realise that virtualised networks with workflow automation will enable us to create unimaginably exciting new flexible services, that are easily turn-upable and downable.

Unlike many service providers, our network is still really clean. It doesn’t have an eclectic legacy of conflicting technologies, a patchwork quilt of various vendors, a jumbled bundle of BSS and OSS infrastructure. We believe we can cost-effectively build a whole new style of telecoms service provider, with the emphasis very much on service and customer experience.

This is radical stuff in telecoms, as telecoms completes its transition to commodity IT-based services.

Oh -  the way - I got an email the other day from the car leasing company. My order got knocked back by Audi as they decided to do a model refresh



For those that don’t know, “Hello” is hallowed by the MacFaithful, as it was the first word written on a Mac screen in public back in 1984.

So for Apple to publicise an event “Hello again”, made our MacGlands swell to bursting with anticipation for yesterday’s launch. 

However, instead of an insanely great product all we got were MacBookPros that were, as a very dear friend said, “a bit faster, a bit thinner, with a bit of an iPad glued on”.

Yes. It’s true. A desperate need to be seen to innovate, while desperately not turning the Mac into an iPad, has led to the TouchBar, a programmable bit of touchscreenery where the practical function keys used to be.

This, combined with a supersized haptic touchpad produces an "amazing experience", which Uncle Phil says we’re going to love.

Well, we might do but when the entry 15inch model comes in at over 2,000 of her Majesty’s finest, it’s an experience a fair few of us won’t be loving for quite some time.

Microsoft, having copied everything Apple have done for the last 35 years, have finally conceded Apple’s business model is the superior one and are starting to make the product and the OS and the apps. This resulted in them, the day before Apple’s event, launching the Microsoft iMac - basically a very large tablet that swivels up to be iMac-like and swivels down to be a large table-like tablet. To help use this, they’ve come up with a natty puck-like device they call the Dial.

I tell you, it’s a pucking sad day when Apple get out-Appled by Microsoft.

This Joy of Tech cartoon just about sums it up:

I'm told there will be new iMacs and MacPros with us by the end of Nov. If this is the case, Apple have a fight on their hands.

The Philosopher's Macs

Some years ago I came across a philosophical conundrum known as “The Philosopher’s Axe”. The Philosopher’s Axe poses the question “If over the course of use, the head and handle of an axe is replaced, is it still the same axe?”.

You may have come across this in the brilliant comedy series “Only Fools and Horses", in a sketch called “Trigger’s Broom”, click on the following link for your delectation and delight:

While googling this, I discovered this idea goes back even further than Delboy and Rodders. Here’s an extract from the Wikipedia entry:

“The ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus' paradox, is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. The paradox is most notably recorded by Plutarch in Life of Theseus from the late first century. Plutarch asked whether a ship that had been restored by replacing every single wooden part remained the same ship.

Centuries later, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes introduced a further puzzle, wondering what would happen if the original planks were gathered up after they were replaced, and used to build a second ship. Hobbes asked which ship, if either, would be the original Ship of Theseus.”

Now that second paragraph really bakes my noodle.

I’ve been using Macs since 1985 and in that time across all the systems I've used, I’ve had two internal power supplies fail, one motherboard fail and a disk drive fail. My current MacBook Pro celebrated its 5th birthday recently – but is it in fact the same Mac that I bought?

Last year, during the summer, the graphics card failed. Research at the time showed that Apple had built a batch of Macbook Pros with faulty cards and were running a recall program, but my Mac fell outside of this program, by virtue of it not being old enough. 

Rather than paying the £475 ex VAT repair bill, I played the EU consumer law card, which basically says that if a product unreasonably breaks or fails within 6 years of purchase, then it should be repaired or replaced by the manufacturer (something to possibly consider in the in/out/shake-it-all-about debate). Apple played ball, and the work was done by an Apple Dealer called Stormfront in Windsor. When I collected it, the store manager made what I thought was a strange comment “We had to replace the whole lid assembly as well as the screen”…

… an odd thing to do I thought, but that’s half a new laptop, thanks very much!

Three weeks ago the screen froze on my Mac, even the seconds on the clock were stuck in time. I rebooted, but half way through the boot sequence, the Mac booted into a completely grey screen. It did the same thing when booting into “safe mode”, and even from “internet recovery” and even more worryingly, from an external bootable hard drive.

Beth, the MacGenius at the Genius bar in the Apple Reading store diagnosed the problem, checked the notes from Stormfront, and concluded that while they had indeed replaced the screen and top lid assembly, they hadn’t actually replaced the faulty graphics card, which is what I took it to them to do! (quite how it's been working since then I have no idea).

No matter, Beth reassured me, Apple were now running a quality program for my vintage of MacBook Pro, and she duly booked it in for repairs – which consisted of swapping out the motherboard, the graphic card being an un-swappable subcomponent.

A week later, I’m happy to report, it was returned in full working order with a delightful £0 fee.

During September of last year, I’d cracked open the casing and fettled my Mac. I increased the RAM from 8GB to 16GB, and swapped out the original 128GB SSD for a 500GB SSD. As I no longer need to burn DVDs, I replaced the internal optical drive with a second internal disk drive that acts as a Timemachine backup drive, the optical disk drive going into an external USB enclosure for the occasional times I need one. 

All this activity means the number of original parts is few: the cooling fan, the keyboard and trackpad, the battery and the aluminium “unibody” enclosure are all that remain of the Mac as it rolled off the production line. It is in essence a completely new Mac, ready to go for another five years.

But it’s still my much loved Mac.

Why Apple’s iOSification of OSX isn’t insanely great

Way back in 1985 I was seduced by Apple’s Lisa computer and started a career in the TMT industries. The Lisa was inspired by Xerox’s Palo research team, which created the first personal computer with a graphical user interface, the Alto, and then the Star workstation. The Lisa was a technical triumph, a commercial disaster, but it inspired the Mac, a cost-reduced version, and the rest is history. 

Xerox Star OS under interface

Xerox Star OS under interface

Not only did they innovate in terms of screen display, but vitally, they innovated in user input and interaction, using the now ubiquitous mouse. The mouse gave very fine precision control, so that bitmaps and vector drawings could be created, and eventually incredibly detailed 3D rendered worlds such as in the film Avatar. 

The first prototype of a computer mouse, as designed by Bill English from Engelbart’s sketches

The first prototype of a computer mouse, as designed by Bill English from Engelbart’s sketches

As a computer engineer, I worked on call logging and network management systems for BTS. At the time these were based on DEC PDP11 processors, PERTEC disk drives and DEC’s OS called RSTS, which if memory serves me correctly stood for Resource Sharing Time Sharing. It was of course a command line interface on a mini-computer – central processing with “dumb” green screen terminals.

It was as unlike the Mac as a user interface could be, but the other more mainstream “desktop” user interface was of course from Microsoft, MS-DOS, for the IBM personal computer. Many of you will remember this, but for those that don’t this is what it looked like: 

The problem with this interface was that unless you knew what arcane code to type, there was no clue as to how to get the computer to actually do anything useful. And if you mistyped these special codes, then all you got was an unhelpful error message.

Note the date of this screenshot, 1989 some 5 years after the launch of the Mac.

Note the date of this screenshot, 1989 some 5 years after the launch of the Mac.

But I digress a bit. The point is that set against a backdrop of computers where no thought at all had gone into making life easy for the user, the Mac’s interface shone out like a beacon, an insanely great product. There were other graphical user interfaces that followed, but they were all inferior. The resolution of the screens was one such area of weakness, and all seemed to be based on a command line underpinning – as was Windows 3.11 that was foisted onto the market in 1992. 

Original Mac user interface

Original Mac user interface

When Apple launched their revitalized operating system, OSX, the user interface followed the tried, tested and trusted desktop metaphor as popularized by the original Mac. Backwards compatibility was ensured by being able to run OS9 virtually, which meant that in essence, users could carry on as if nothing had changed, only migrating to the new OSX world when the applications they used had been ported.

On iOS

The next user interface revolution was triggered by Apple’s iPhone. Famously this ushered in the new era of “touch”. Steve Jobs made a great play of not having a stylus, users could use just their fingers to operate the new multi-touch device. And all was cool with the world: Steve said “Let there be touch” and so there was.

iWork doesn’t work

The iPad was simply an overgrown iPhone, and therein lie some problems. iPad has of course been tremendously successful, and if it works for you, that’s great. It doesn’t work for me because it’s so difficult to create content, and the cause of this problem is its greatest strength – the touch interface. 

Apple’s Pages in iOS on an iPad

Apple’s Pages in iOS on an iPad

This screenshot of Pages (Apple’s equivalent of Word) shows the elegance of the touch screen interface. Notice the lack of clutter, the use of white space between the various controls and the size of the controls. It’s designed this way because the device expects you to use your fingers to control it.

The problem I experienced was  trying to line up the on-page content – for example various objects in a diagram in Keynote (Apple’s equivalent of Powerpoint). As I couldn’t see what was happening directly under my finger, I couldn’t be certain that fine detail was as I wanted it to be. So while the iPad is wonderful for content consumption, I found it delivered a poor and frustrating experience for content creation, and having a computer focused purely on content consumption is ludicrous. It might as well be just a portable TV.

Due to the rampant success of iOS devices (by the way I love iOS as a phone interface), along with the decision to make iWork apps available on all devices, Apple have been seduced into porting the iOS design principles to the latest versions OSX version of iWork apps (Pages, Keynote and Numbers are Apple’s equivalent of Office). I call this process iOSification, and it results in products that make no sense, they simply don’t work. 

Here’s a screenshot of a slide I created as part of a video animation. This is the  fully iOSified iWork 2013 version of Keynote. As you can see, the control panel, or “Inspector”, not only overlaps the work area of the slide, but also extends to below the visible area of the screen, which means you have to scroll down to get at controls, which of course means you lose track of where the controls are, which means you become less productive.

The Inspector menu isn’t even tear-offable. It’s stuck there right over the work area, consuming about 25% of the work area. You can turn it off, so it’s not displayed, but there’s no convenient “Hide Inspector” button. You either have to remember a keyboard command, or you have to use a drop down menu option, all of which interrupts your workflow.

You can of course zoom out of the slide (or the page in Pages) and then zoom back in again, but this is also an inefficient way of working.

This is an appalling user interface.

By contrast, here’s the previous version of Keynote’s user interface, one designed for OSX, not iOS: 

Apple’s Keynote 09 on an OSX device, a MacBook Pro

Apple’s Keynote 09 on an OSX device, a MacBook Pro

The first thing you’ll notice is how small the control panel is – it still makes good use of white space, the controls aren’t crowded, but the whole thing is tightly elegant. This is because it’s designed for the primary interaction device of a laptop – a mouse (or trackpad) – the pointed of which takes up hardly any screen estate and provides a very high degree of precision.

You notice that as a result it’s hardly overlapping the work area at all (both views are the default view in Keynote, as close to the same magnification as I could make them). You might also notice that it’s a floating pallet, which means I can slide it nicely out of the way if it does obtrude into my work, or I can even slide it onto an external monitor.

So, iWork 2013 for OSX is a retrograde step and not an upgrade. It’s perplexing in the extreme that a company renowned for innovation and excellence in user interface design has made such a basic mistake. It’s probably the result of an introspective power play between iOS teams and OSX teams, rather than on focusing on what’s right for the customer.

The iOSification of OSX apps forces square pegs into round holes. Apple, Jonny Ive, Tim Cook, I implore you to look again at this strategy, understand better how your users use the different platforms you make, and refocus your efforts on making insanely great products.


This was originally published @

A Mac User’s reflections on Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3

Image source: Me

Image source: Me

I'm about to be issued with a Surface Pro 3. One of my most popular blog entries from 2014 was this one, which I originally posted on It'll be interesting to see how I get on with this device on a long term basis, as opposed to a short review period.

The Lisa begat the Mac, OS9 gave way to OSX, Motorola chips were replaced by Intel, and Apple went in a new direction with the iPod which begat the iPhone which introduced a new version of OSX: iOS.

And so we arrived at the iPad, and it seems to me I can’t talk about the Surface Pro 3 without talking about the iPad first because of course if it wasn’t for the iPad there would be no Surface.

What can I say about the iPad? Given my history, you may be expecting unalloyed praise for this remarkable device, but you won’t get it. While I can’t deny its phenomenal success, I couldn’t make it work for me. I bought an iPad 2 with PAYG cellular connectivity and was full of expectation that this would be my new mobile computing device. Lightweight, slim and trim, with myriad applications, I’d finally be able to dispense with my faithful Moleskine notebooks and create digital meeting notes, and doodle diagrams on the fly.

And to be fair, to some extent this worked. My iPad did pay for itself as it was the only IT I had access to when staying in Paris for a week, during which time I secured and completed a small contract which more than covered the cost of the iPad.

But it was hard work creating the proposal, and this is my beef with the iPad.

It may be one of those myths about Steve Jobs, but I believe it was the case that he was so insistent that the mouse was the new and best input device available, that he didn’t want keyboard shortcuts for the original Mac. Of course the mouse is tremendously useful, but certain operations such as copy and paste for example are much quicker as keyboard commands than drop down sub-menus nested within drop down menus.

And so it seems to me to be the same thing with iPads. Steve Jobs’ dogma insisted that the finger was the best input device, mice (and styluses) aren’t welcome. While multi-touch screens are glorious things, in my opinion they not be the be all and end all for user interaction; my finger simply gets in the way, I can’t see through it. So it takes forever to create content that’s properly aligned for example – a diagram in Keynote, for example.

Irritatingly, the iPad has all the necessary hardware and software within it to support bluetooth mice but you have to jailbreak the iPad to make it work. If you do, usage is transformed! With a mouse and a wireless keyboard you have the same kind of usability as a laptop. A laptop with a touch screen. Now there’s a thought. But alas jailbreaking brings its own problems, so I didn’t do it.

I can understand why Apple decided to use iOS on the iPad instead of regular OSX. At the time of the iPad’s launch, the iPhone, powered by iOS, had been an unbelievable success and it made sense to ride that wave and produce a larger format iOS device. Also the hardware available then probably couldn’t quite deliver enough power to provide a “full fat” OSX tablet with enough ooomph to be useful. And, although all the battery issues learned from iPhones could be transplanted directly into the iPad, OSX wasn’t battery optimised in the way iOS was. Maybe they’ll think different with the much touted “iPad Pro” .

But now things are different and Microsoft could have had a huge advantage, but I think they fell into a trap.

I absolutely love the Surface Pro 3!

Microsoft have absolutely nailed the product. The packaging is as good as anything Apple has produced. You may not think packaging is important, but I think it is as it all adds to the product experience which ultimately impacts brand loyalty.

I enjoyed unwrapping my shiny new gizmo and my first impressions were that this was a beautifully made product. Superbly engineered and well designed. A different design language, naturally, from Apple’s consumer-led design aesthetics. The Surface Pro 3 is more industrial, more rugged – handsome as opposed to pretty. It feels solid, but not weighty. It feels like it means business.

It’s larger than the iPad, but not unusably so – it has presence, not inconvenience. The integrated kickstand is well made, not at all flimsy, and offers such a wide angle of adjustment that the Surface Pro 3 can be used upright, or laying on its back, slightly inclined towards you from the horizontal.

Image source: Me

Image source: Me

The clip-on magnetic keyboard is a real success. Its lightness means that it bounces around a bit when being used, but that’s really inconsequential. What’s really impressive is that it lights up in dark – a feature I’ve been used to for years on my MacBook Pros. Why is this important? Well, a truly portable device needs to be usable under any lighting conditions and sometimes there just isn’t enough ambient lighting to use, which sometimes made my previous unlit Lenovo ThinkPad unusable.

The trackpad on the clip-on keyboard isn’t that great, but that doesn’t matter because I have choice of other ways to navigate around the device. I can use a mouse! I can use my fingers on the multi-touch screen, or I can use the stylus that comes with the Surface Pro 3.

The high res touch screen works pretty well. It isn’t, in truth, as responsive to fingers as the iPad, but it is very good and certainly usable and liveable with. Just for the record, the Surface Pro 3 I have is the i3 processor version, the baby of the range.

But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself because setting up the Surface Pro 3 had some issues.

Setting up the Surface Pro 3

At first, the set up routine seemed well thought out and all was progressing nicely until I came across this screen:

Image source: Me

Image source: Me

Seems pretty straight forward. As I wanted the SP3 to be synced with my work email account, I assumed I could enter that email address and, rather like iOS does, the setup routine would find the email account, perform suitable magic, and all would be well.

But this didn’t happen. What did happen was this:

Image source: Me

Image source: Me

I checked my settings for my Microsoft Account, with a Microsoft representative on the phone at the time, and he confirmed there was no reason this shouldn’t work. But the fact is, it didn’t. Anyway, at this point in setting up the Surface Pro 3, I got stuck in a loop. The “system” wouldn’t accept my Silverbug email address but offered no obvious way forwards.

As you can see below, the error message clearly says “continue without a Microsoft account”, but no amount of clicking on that message made any difference, this screen just stared blankly at me:

Image source: Me

Image source: Me

The other options at the bottom of the screen didn’t help either – clicking on “Don’t have an account?” didn’t do anything, and there was no point in clicking on “Create a new account” as I didn’t want to create a new account as I thought I already had one.

At this point, I handed the Surface Pro 3 over to the IT team to continue the setup.

As it happens, my IT team informs me, the option to continue set up without a Microsoft account is in fact buried in the “Create a new account” option, which doesn’t seem to me to be the most logical place to put it.

Howsoever, IT did what IT does and set my Surface Pro 3 up so that it was completely integrated with our corporate Outlook and Lync accounts and now it’s a breeze to use the device just like a laptop.

Thank goodness for Windows 10! (I hope)

What can I say about Windows8? I find it’s a confusing place to be. The Start Screen and the Desktop. Two user interfaces in one device. You can start from Start, but you finish on the Desktop.

There are lots of applications listed in the Start Screen which can be pinned to either the Start Screen or the Task bar. Or both. Such as Word. I can pin Word to both. If I start Word from the Start Screen I would expect that, once I’ve finished with Word, I would drop back to the Start Screen so that I could start something else.

But instead I’m dropped back to the Desktop and have to take an additional action, a swipe, to get back to the Start Screen.

Which begs the obvious question, “What’s the point of the Start Screen?”

Having discussed this with Microsoft at some length, I’m still not sure. It seems that the user interface now known as Start Screen was developed as a response to the success of iOS, especially the iPad tablet. The desktop metaphor, I’ve been told, was seen as an anachronism and Microsoft felt like they were becoming an irrelevance in the tablet space.

I’ve also been told that Microsoft wants to take us on a journey to a new place, and has to carry all of us with them, with all our preferences and prejudices. And of course this is laudable. But the thing is, do we need to go to a new place, whatever that might be?

Is the Desktop really irrelevant? Especially for products in Microsoft’s traditional enterprise home ground? The Wikipedia entry for the Metro interface makes for interesting reading here.

Remember that iOS was, in my opinion, used on the iPad partly because hardware constraints meant that tablet form factors couldn’t support full-fat OSX (I say full-fat because iOS is OSX, but slimmed down somewhat with a different user interface grafted onto it).

But the Surface Pro 3 is proof positive that hardware has caught up with software, and a full-fat operating system, in this case Windows8, can be successfully run on a modern tablet design. In fact, the i3, i5 and i7 processors are exactly the same as used in Apple’s MacBook Pros and MacBook Air laptops that do run full-fat OSX.

I believe many of the frustrations I’ve experienced with Windows8 will be resolved next year in Windows10.

Sensitive to touch?

Some might argue that the reason the desktop metaphor is losing relevance is the multi-touch screen. A traditional desktop design doesn’t work well with multi-touch screens because the detail is too small. Icons, menu option, radio buttons and all the visual design cues that we are so used to don’t respond well to spatulate fingers such as mine.

And to a point I’d agree; occasionally multi-touch is too coarse, not refined enough, to be 100% accurate in the Windows8 Desktop on the Surface Pro 3. But this is the trap Microsoft fell into because, in Windows8 on the Surface Pro 3, you can still use the standard keyboard shortcuts that everyone using every version of Windows has become used to since the inception of Windows 3.11, or you could use the mouse to select or click, or even the stylus. With some applications, you can even zoom into dialog boxes by “pinching out” on the Surface’s screen surface and still use your finger, à la iOS.

There was simply no need to create a radical new Windows interface for an enterprise-oriented tablet.

One note about OneNote

I was really impressed with OneNote on Surface Pro 3. I think this is an absolute gem of a product and I was delighted to stumble across it. It has all the panache and innovation that I love to see. The design and development team deserve every plaudit going for the work they’ve done with it.

I’ve been a devoted user of Moleskine notepads for a decade or more and have a tidy pile of them full of my scrawly scribble and diagrams. I’m a visual thinker and like mind-mapping and diagramming to explain my ideas and capture what thoughts I have.

The stylus really comes into its own with OneNote. For once I felt I had a usable and useful digital notebook, writing with the stylus felt smooth and natural. The Surface Pro 3’s screen is pressure sensitive, so you really can emphasise free-form doodles, and there’s no lag between moving the stylus and tablet responding.

On top of this are some superbly executed context-sensitive radial menus that give you all the added features you need, without being intrusive. Changing the colour of the pen or thickness of the nib, for example, is very easy and feels natural; why wouldn’t you do it this way?

If you prod the screen with your finger, you get one menu, if you prod with the stylus a different menu is displayed and yet again if you select some text such as the note title, a third menu is displayed. And there are sub-menus within the main menu – precisely which shade of red do you want? User interface research shows that radial menus up to a maximum of 8 options are not only useful but increase productivity, although the downside is they can take up a lot of screen real estate. The design team behind OneNote have dealt with this problem in a beautifully elegant way.

The only problem with note taking in OneNote is nothing to do with the Surface Pro 3 as such – but with corporate security policies. At Silverbug, we have a strict adherence of security policies, understandably so. But this means that the Surface Pro 3 auto-locks after a few minutes of inactivity. This means that you need to log back in again, while listening to someone speak – and when you have a complex password, and are trying to use the multi-part soft keyboard that the Surface Pro 3 has, it takes several attempts to get logged back in, by which time you’ve missed the point of what’s being said. This is obviously incompatible with effective note taking.

Should the Emperor keep taking the tablets?

When it comes to tablets, I can’t help thinking – so what? Isn’t it all just a case of Emperor’s new clothes?

My experience of the iPad was hugely disappointing, so much so that, to the surprise of my Microsoft friends and colleagues, I recently sold it.

When using the Surface Pro 3 in upright mode with the magnetic keyboard attached, the form factor is no different from a standard laptop, so why not just use a regular laptop?

Although there’s plenty of power in a Surface Pro 3, as they use the i-series processors, and it could be a laptop replacement, there’s no overall compelling reason to do so. I can’t see myself replacing my laptop with any tablet anytime soon.

When not using the external keyboard, the Surface Pro 3 is a more usable tablet than the iPad, by virtue of still supporting wireless mice and stylus’s as well as the multi-touch screen with soft keyboard, which works as well as you’d expect. For note taking, OneNote with the stylus is excellent.

But the Surface Pro 3 when used as a tablet is less useful than a regular laptop, although I do concede that there are occasions when the tablet form factor might be more appropriate for some specific tasks. Are these limited occasions worth the money?

For me, the standout application on the Surface Pro 3 is OneNote, but I wouldn’t have a Surface Pro 3 just for electronic note taking. Not only is that expensive, but I’d be carrying both the Surface Pro 3 and my laptop.


If you want to get a tablet for business use, right now I’d recommend you give the Surface Pro 3 some serious consideration as it’s probably the best of the bunch.