Microsoft’s Surface tablet has been out for a while now, and it hasn’t exactly been setting sales records. Coincidentally (or not, depending on how cynical you are), Microsoft’s ex-CEO and current Chairman Bill Gates now weighs in on what he believes are two of the iPad’s glaring deficiencies: no keyboard and no Microsoft Office.

Does he have a point? Maybe. But only one. Not two.

Whaddya mean, no keyboard?

When I read Gates’ comment that iPad users miss having a keyboard, I had to laugh. First, it’s not like there aren’t a ton of aftermarket keyboards out there. And as Sam will tell you, it is possible to do touch typing on even the screen keyboard. Granted, it’s not as comfortable, but life is full of little tradeoffs. You’re on a portable computer, dude. Deal with it. (And has Gates not heard of voice-to-text?)

No Office? Well, sort of

The lack of Office is a more serious charge. Like it or not (and regardless of the free and/or cheap alternatives out there), Microsoft Office is the most widely-used office productivity suite out there. If you’re in the fortunate position of never having to exchange Word files with anyone, then you can use whatever software you like. But clients and co-counsel are increasingly insisting on getting work product in editable form, so the likelihood you’ll encounter a Word file isn’t decreasing anytime soon.

The decision to offer Office on a non-Microsoft tablet isn’t necessarily a no-brainer. As Google’s Director of Chrome and Apps Alan Masarek pointed out in last week’s Tablet Strategy conference, Microsoft needs to figure out whether it’s a software company or a platform provider. If the latter, the company needs to re-think its stance on Office on non-Windows devices. (Rumor is it already has.) But the price-to-feature ratio may still be unacceptably high.

So the relatively few souls who’ve joined the clicking dancers in Microsoft’s Surface commercials may have an advantage over the rest of us. But how much of an advantage, and for how long?



  1. Wishful thinking by Gates I think. MS missed the boat on this product. I’ve got news for them. The Windows Surface suffers from a lack of a keyboard. It’s TERRIBLE.

    As for MS Word, I haven’t used it for years. It hasn’t been a usable word processor since version 5.1. It is simply dreadful. I type mainly in text anyway. Word processors are for formatting and not for writing. Pads really are better for drafting and thinking, not for finishing and formatting.

    I really don’t need Word on my pad or on my desktop. I can dump my text into a processor and have it export to Word if I really have to do that. Occasionally I do and I send it along without any problems or need for a copy of word.

    • Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

      What’s your word processor of choice, then? I use text files or Google Docs for most things, these days (though I wish GDocs had text file/Markdown support), but I just used Word for an appellate brief because automatic tables of contents and authorities are awesome, and I wanted to use Baskerville, a font not available in Google Docs.

  2. Dan says:

    I think what’s being missed here is that Bill Gates is out from the shadows. Back from his world of non-profit and immunizations in the third world and sharing computer opinions again. It makes me wonder if MS is hoping to ditch Ballmer, bring Gates back in a would be attempt to do what Apple did with Jobs? You gotta admit, it’s possible.

  3. Stephen Hayes says:

    For years I have used Quick Office and DocsToGo on my iPad (with wonderful Logitech keyboard). However, neither really measured up, particularly with spreadsheets. The iOS OneNote app was worthless. When Dell cut the price of its XPS10/Win8RT machine & keyboard with included Office apps, I bit the bullet and bought one.

    The iPad is still a superior experience overall, but I do love having “real” Office products available when substantial work needs to get done on the road. It has also pushed me to use SkyDrive more, as that is embedded easily within the Office products. Access to my Microsoft hosted Exchange service is also better.

    I don’t see Microsoft offering Office to other platforms until its venture into tablets is deemed a lost effort. That will certainly take a while as it is presently planning upgrades to Win8 and Win8RT. The latter, which is on the XPS10, certainly needs improved functionality.

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