H4cked Off: Slating the Surface

By Stuart Sumner
08 Jan 2013 View Comments

So, you can't use the tiles (so no mail, messaging, music, video, photos or games), and you can't use the Store (no apps). It did, however, at least manage to access the internet via IE, so my children could watch Cbeebies, which freed up my iPad, so that's something.

Further reading

Anyway, everything changed today as we finally worked out (by which I mean, ‘bothered to Google') how to factory reset the device. It took about five minutes to think about its many crimes, then took us through a few simple configuration screens, one of which was designed to help it connect to Wi-Fi. I had to take a guess at the encryption type of our Wi-Fi here at Incisive Towers, thinking it would be easy to change it later. Of course I got it wrong. Of course, it was no simple thing to change it later. In fact, you get one chance to set the encryption type, and then you're on your own.

Attempting to Google the problem finds more help pages for Microsoft's other Surface, the now discontinued ‘table' device of yesteryear, than anything for the current tablet. Are there really that few words left in the English language that Microsoft has to re-use names it's given to devices in the past? Mind you, if Renault can find nothing better than ‘Twingo' for a range of cars then perhaps this word shortage is for real.

Anyway, eventually I found a helpful page showing me how to manually set up a new Wi-Fi connection. Once you try to do anything remotely unusual with Surface, it rapidly discards its Modern UI and reverts (almost with an internal sigh of relief) to a Windows 7 desktop, which requires thinner fingers than mine to usefully click on the tiny icons. With a bit of trial and error, I eventually managed to set up the Wi-Fi connection properly, and guess what? The Wi-Fi stopped working altogether! Brilliant!

Deep diving into the Windows 7 Settings (after it crashed and rebooted) dredges up a whole catalogue of sins from the Surface design nightmare. It's like Microsoft didn't bother to redesign the back-end for Windows 8, or it just didn't trust its Modern interface to handle it all properly.

Go into the ‘Network and Sharing Center', click on ‘Set up a new connection or network', click on ‘Connect to the Internet' and you get the wonderful response: ‘Windows did not detect any networking hardware'.

Go to ‘Uninstall or change a program', and you get an empty table carrying only the message; ‘No programs are installed on this computer'.

The help screen for problems connecting to the Internet includes the helpful message ‘Check if all cables are properly attached'. Cables? This is a tablet. Is this actually the right OS, Microsoft?

Ask it to detect and fix problems connecting to the Internet, and after some thought the device (in my case) told me that there's a problem with the drivers for my network adaptor. In the year or so I've owned my iPad, it's never seen the need to bore me with driver problems. I assume it uses drivers, but it keeps them nicely in the background, where they belong. Microsoft, I don't want to know about driver problems in a tablet, I want it to just work!

I've since given up again. So the hours I've spent bashing my head against the device (maybe that's why it doesn't work?) aren't wasted, I'm now writing this to warn others of the potential perils of Surface ownership.

As Computing's own Graeme Burton commented during our recent Christmas tablet round-up video, the Surface is well suited to braining old ladies should you decide to turn to a life of crime.  I personally wouldn't condone that, but right now I wouldn't mind testing its combat effectiveness on whoever decided it was ready for market at Microsoft.

To be fair, though, it is an awfully good paperweight.

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