Microsoft’s new Surface tablet is a beautiful thing. I’m not ashamed to say that I have major, major gadget lust over it, despite my objections to Windows 8. It’s sleek, pretty powerful, a smidgen cheaper than an iPad and supports an optional tactile keyboard thing that looks like it could cope with portable XCom, or Football Manager. It runs Windows, which makes it a bit like a PC, right? If it runs Windows, it’ll run PC games as well, right?
No. Completely wrong. Do not be mistaken: this version of Surface will not run PC games. If you’re considering buying a tablet under the assumption it will run PC games, you need to put away your credit card right now.
The confusion is down to Microsoft’s insistence on creating multiple variants of Windows, but naming them all Windows 8. The key difference in Surface’s case: it’s running Windows RT, a version of Windows developed specifically to run on ARM chipsets. ARM chips are favoured for their low power drain and relatively high performance. But they’re incompatible with programs built for x86 processors: i.e. games built for the PC.
So: at its most basic, you’re not going to be running Football Manager, XCom, or anything else. You’re not going to get Steam on the platform, and you’re not going to be playing WoW on it any time soon.
The set of programs Windows RT can run is limited to those apps and games built using Window’s new ‘modern’ interface (formerly known as Metro). That ecosystem is still in a fledgling state; and the catalogue is way below par. Right now: in the Windows 8 store, games are the by far the most popular category, but the selection is really poor. Hearts, Fruit Ninja, and various word, casual and card games rule the roost.
But be patient: there is another version of Surface coming, based around an Ivy Bridge Core i5 Intel chip. That version of Surface is a fully fledged PC and can run full games, and apps downloaded from the store. It’s called “Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 Pro”. It’s set to release “three months” after the launch of the original Surface tablet - sometime in January, and it will be significantly more expensive than the Windows RT version of Surface.
That’s the tablet I’m waiting for.