Review: Microsoft's Surface RT will make even a fanboy cry

Is it a laptop or a tablet? The Surface makes a valiant attempt at being both -- but leaves you yearning for one or the other

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Synchronization and user accounts shine
Windows RT (like Windows 8) excels in two areas. One is synchronization if you use a Microsoft account. Your settings sync automatically -- even Wi-Fi passwords -- across devices connected to the same Microsoft account. Your documents sync as well. More syncs across Windows RT and 8 devices than syncs across iOS and OS X devices using Apple's iCloud; if you like iCloud, you'll love Microsoft's version of it.

Windows RT (again, like Windows 8) is unique among tablet OSes in that it supports multiple users per device. Each user has a separate account they log into, with a wholly separate environment for each user. That's great for families and work groups alike. PCs and Macs both offer the same capability, but not iOS or Android devices.

Settings are straightforward, except for networking
The Settings charm -- Metro's equivalent to a control panel -- offers a simple UI for configuring your Surface, way simpler to use than Windows' Control Panel and even simpler than iOS's and Android's Settings apps. Tap a pane's name, then set the switches as desired. Almost everything is handled through an On/Off switch.

If you connect a device to the Surface's USB port or MiniHDMI port, Windows RT is good at detecting it and setting it up. However, I found its bundled driver list to be inadequate, and Windows Update often didn't find older printers' drivers even though Windows RT correctly identified the printer. Of course you can't install drivers directly from vendor websites because Windows RT prohibits any installations outside of Windows Update and the Windows Store.

Accessing network printers is also a pain. They're not detected by the Add a Device control in the Settings charm, as they should be. Instead, you have to go to the Windows Desktop, open the Control Panel, go to the Hardware and Sound section, and tap Advanced Printer Setup. Like everything else in the Windows Desktop -- the File Explorer (what used to be called Windows Explorer in Windows 7), the Office RT apps, and the desktop version of IE10 -- the Control Panel is shrunk in size to fit the Surface's screen, making it both hard to read and hard to accurately tap.

If you want to access admin controls for networking, such as to override certificate settings, forget about it. These controls are gone in Windows RT. If your networks don't connect for some reason, the workarounds you likely use in Windows 7 or XP won't be there for you in Windows RT (or Windows 8). That's probably the right thing, to limit kludges and workarounds that muck up IT infrastructure, but there's a short-term cost of breakage when you bring Windows RT into such kludged environments.

Security is limited
Windows RT may sport Office and thus seem like a perfect business traveler's tablet, but Microsoft has undercut that use by providing just the barest security capabilities. There's no VPN client and so far none in the Windows Store. You can't use existing Windows VPN clients either.

Windows RT supports basic Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policies, such as for complex passwords, remote wipe, and on-device encryption; in low-security environments users can connect to Exchange to access email, calendars, and contacts, as well as to SharePoint. But Windows RT doesn't provide a means for mobile device management (MDM) tools to apply the kinds of controls many enterprises require, nor does it work with Active Directory group policies via domain joins. Microsoft says the 2013 version of Intune will introduce MDM-style management to Windows RT, but details are few and adopting it means bringing yet another management tool into IT's portfolio.

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