When I told my brother (an Apple convert) that I had bought a Microsoft Surface RT, his first reaction was: "Gutsy". I can see where he is coming from --it is a bit of an early-adopter risk. And had I not just contributed some money to buying my niece an iPad Mini? So what gives? The reaction is familiar by now. My niece-in-law's boyfriend --the only other geek embraced in my wife's clan, which means that at gatherings we inevitably gravitate towards each other-- had the same raised-eyebrow response mixed with half awe, half worry for my mental state. "Gutsy", he said. Let me say first off that I'm delighted with the machine and I am in fact typing this (fast) on the touch cover, with the device perched laptop-like on my lap (which yes, you can do, stably and comfortably). As I have been getting acquainted with it over the last week I have been trying to formulate my thoughts on it; why I like it so much more than the in many ways excellent iPad or Nexus (and what I like less about it), why it suits my particular needs and why the inevitable compromises that I had to make feel to me worth it, and why the doomsayers and critics are wrong. Its a great device --if you know what you are looking for in a tablet. This is not my first foray into tablet computing. I'm not a tablet virgin (there, I've said it). My firs acquaintance with a tablet-like device was the Apple Newton (I could not afford one; I just played with it in a shop). It was pretty awesome for its day although its processing power clearly was insufficient for good handwriting recognition. Then the PalmPilot came out --a simplified compact Newton clone without the handwriting recognition but with a fool proof, easy Graffiti symbol system (basically one-stroke letters) and I had a few successive iterations of these. Of course it was just a PDA --no email, no browser, no network of any kind as the web was only just about to be born. This was before the iPhone; before any smartphone in fact (unless you count the Blackberry and some esoteric Nokia devices). I was working across four hospitals, with secretarial support in a fifth which I never visited (yeah, that's the NHS for you), with the challenge of keeping three different Outlook calendars in sync and accessible to the secretary who was on a different network altogether; keep track of three email accounts, keep all my documents preferably paperless, and take notes of sessions and meetings. A tablet seemed preferable to sitting across a patient in a counselling room hunched over a laptop keyboard. My first attempt at finding a proper tablet that could manage email, web, diary and some productivity was a second-hand Siemens SIMpad SL4 with Windows CE 3.0. It was a flop. The size was OK, but the OS was limited and an upgrade to CE 4.0, for reasons best known to Microsoft, excluded a calendar. You had to add a WiFi PCMCIA card which would jut out the side. You could hack a Bluetooth dongle into the USB 1.0 port. All this was manageable, but most problematic was its dismal battery life --even on standby it would last only a day and when the battery ran out it would forget all its data and need syncing again (a problem that the early PalmPilots had, but at least they lasted several months on two AA batteries). I also still own my next acquisition: a Motion Computing LE1600 tablet from 2003 which features Microsoft's first attempt at tablets in the shape of Windows XP Tablet edition. Most people will be more likely to recall the HP TC1100 device. As an idea it had potential. As a realisation it sucked. The format of the device was great: I could handwrite notes (which it could read and turn into print); I could draw diagrams, all in OneNote. I could run Outlook on it. I could run Word, Powerpoint, Excel; all the usual tools of the trade. The downside was that it ran hot. Playing a video would cause it to overheat in minutes. The battery drained at an alarming rate (especially when reading handwriting) and lasted no more than three hours. It booted up s l o w l y. The OS was a disaster --not touch friendly at all. The on-screen keyboard was tiny, and because the digitiser screen only responded to pen input, required a hint-and-peck one-finger input (handwriting recognition worked as well, but obviously wouldn't make sense of passwords). It was lighter than the laptops of the time, but still more than a good kilo. I plodded on for a while, but then the iPhone came along and NHS.net email/calendar migrated to a proper exchange server, and I thought: "Sod it". The iPhone was a breath of fresh air. What nobody knew then is that the iPhone started project life as an iPad. The iPhone was quickly developed from it and released when Steve Jobs saw the potential of the burgeoning mobile phone market. The iPad came out in 2010. So why didn't I jump at it? I've wondered the same thing. It's not as if I don't like it --it is really rather good. So are the Android offerings. But when I recently fired up my old tablet, I saw this (and yeah, note the tiny keyboard keys): I realised what I had been trying to recreate back in 2003, using things like Yahoo Widgets Informer for the top bar indicating battery, wifi signsl and HDD space, and Rocketdock for touch-friendly icons and Samurise for a big date and time interface, and some other widget to put calendar activities straight on the desktop... well, what I had been building is an Android-a-like tablet desktop, before Android. But most of all, what I wanted on a tablet was email, web and Office. I wanted was not a media consumption device, but a productivity device. Something like that Windows tablet, but one that was lighter, faster, better, lasted all day, and basically did not suck. The Surface is that tablet. I will write more tomorrow (it's late). But if you are curious and have specific questions that you would like me to answer, post them here!