After writing everything you've seen so far in this piece, I did eventually manage to get the machine to work, by late evening. Having already completed a full factory reset, it took another 'refresh' (Surface's own term, not mine) to get the WiFi adaptor back online.
So I've now had a few hours of actual productive use, downloading apps, setting up tiles, and generally using the device as intended.
And actually, I like it a lot. It's slick, apps download quickly, place themselves logically on the screen, and the tiles dynamically show information like newsfeeds, weather reports, or what your friends are up to, tempting you to click and learn more.
The Windows Store is organised very well, and shows you the latest or most popular free and paid-for apps by category, and I had no trouble finding lots of interesting apps. Wordament, a mind-stretching word game, was especially good.
Do I prefer it to my iPad? I'm not sure. Maybe if I'd spent the day actually enjoying it, rather than six hours trying to get it work, then an hour using it properly, then I might. As it is all I can say is that it's a very well thought-out device which presents a genuinely different alternative to iOs or Android.
The problems at the back-end really do need to be sorted out though. The Windows 7 desktop and system settings have no place in a tablet, especially when so much of the software appears to be a legacy from previous Windows versions. You can get away with that with a relatively captive desktop audience, but it just looks lazy to the mobile generation.
And it's also very Microsoft. The Windows operating systems itself was just spooned over ancient MS-Dos code until XP (Microsoft claims that practise ended with Windows 98 but I beg to differ). Now Windows 8 is a varnish applied to Windows 7.
Hopefully there'll be a service pack that gives the house-keys to the Modern UI and retires its Windows minder. Hopefully it won't need a factory reset, hours on Google and a further ' system refresh' to make it work properly.