John Robbins' Blog

Visual Studio and the Surface Pro: Great News and Not So Great News

Read the follow up! There's a fix: Unicorns and Puppies Return

It sure seems that a lot of you want to toss out your laptops given how many emails and messages I got this asking how Visual Studio runs on a Surface Pro. Since I live to be at your beck and call, I’m here to give you the lowdown, skinny, and scoop. I’ve got some seriously great news but it’s tempered with some potentially seriously bad news. Since I’m a positive thinking person, let’s start with the great news.

Visual Studio runs magnificently on this sexy piece of hardware. After installing the full Visual Studio Ultimate, I’ve added ReSharper, StyleCop, and the following extensions shown in color.


As I type in Word, Visual Studio is sitting at a breakpoint in a decent size .NET project. With the full symbol server, IntelliTrace cranked up all the way, and the application sitting at a breakpoint, I’m only using 2.7 GB of physical RAM for everything. The Surface Pro has handled all the development chores I’ve thrown at it today wonderfully. If you are dreaming of ditching that giant development laptop with the coolest of tablets, you should just about be in heaven.

Alas, all is not unicorns and puppies in the world of the Surface Pro. In my first 24 hour impressions, I gave the Type Cover a “pretty good” for typing but reported the trackpad was “subpar” because it was “too easy to brush with your thumb.” Given what I experienced today I would change that subpar to essentially unusable for me. I was surprised because I’m a big trackpad user with my MacBook Pro and a Apple Magic Trackpad on my desk instead of a mouse.

In several hours of real development I found that the Type Cover trackpad actually responds to the physical presence of my thumbs just being in the same room. It was quite the adventure wondering where the cursor was going to randomly bounce next. While I know I have poor hand position when typing so some of this is my fault, the trackpad as a trackpad isn’t a smooth experience. It would decide in the middle of moving the mouse cursor that I really meant to drag a tool window or click with wild abandon. I could never get the hang of the right level of pressure for clean behavior so was touching the screen a lot instead of using the mouse, but my finger is a little too blunt for some of those tiny Visual Studio toolbar icons. The worst thing that happened was that in the middle of 20 minutes of coding I managed to have the cursor randomly click the close button right as I was hitting “n” followed by a spacebar. Yeah, I loved typing those 20 minutes over again.

As developers, we all know how Visual Studio loves the function keys. The Type Cover has a tiny annoyance that the default for the function keys are to do things like control volume, search, get into devices, and go to settings. (I know you all go into the Windows 8 settings on a minutely basis.) To get to the actual function keys, you have to press the FN key as in FN+F5. It’s a small thing but it kept tripping me up and I’m not the on complaining about it. Hopefully Microsoft will tell us the magic registry to toggle the function keys to function keys.

So those of you dreaming of that two pound laptop replacement and you have excellent hand position where keep your pesky thumbs away from the too sensitive Type Cover trackpad, you’ll love it. For thumb draggers like me you’ll be carrying a separate Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to do serious editing. That’s exactly what I’m typing on right and using now because I couldn’t take it anymore. I guess I could start doing two finger typing with my fingers pointed exactly perpendicular to the Type Cover.

If you’re contemplating a Surface Pro you need to spend time typing real data using the Type Cover to see if it will work for you. I’ve given you my experiences but your mileage will certainly vary. My hope is that the Surface team will be either improving the Type Cover or adding a real keyboard cover as hinted in the Reddit AMA very soon.

On Feb 15 2013 11:09 PMBy jrobbins With 18 Comments

Comments (18)

  1. Did you try 'TrackPad Settings' app? I hear it can help. Though for my touch cover it's only got on/off for Trackpad, Tap Gestures and Scrolling.

    From your experience with the TrackPad off a mouse + Type Cover should do well ?

    Thanks for the writeup.

  2. hybrid webtech

    Ditch the TypeCover and get a more appropriate kbd? I have a SurfPro+LogiTech wireless kbd, and the combo is pretty good. Not perfect, but we're just starting down this path.

    On another note, have you noticed any screen discoloration on your SurfPro? Mine has a few zones of very pale yellow discolorations at the margins of the screen. Not sure what to do about this. Its relatively unobtrusive most of the time.

    And I really don't like the power connector. Way too fiddly to connect.

  3. Sumit,

    I OWE YOU! The TrackPad Settings app fixed the big issues I had.

    hybrid webtech,

    Neither my wife's or my unit show the yellowing you describe. Shoot Microsoft an email or go to a store and I bet you can get a replacement. While the power connector isn't as smooth as my Mac's mag safe, it's usable. :)

    Benjamin Williams,

    Nope. No SQL Server for me. I don't touch databases that much but I think SQL would run fine on the machine. You've only got 4GB on the machine so you do have space considerations, but as long as you are not building the next Google on the Surface Pro it should handle your needs.

    Hope it helps!
    -John Robbins

  4. Use VS's autosave and set period to 1 minute. The most you would lose is 1 minute worth of typing. I use .NET Demon which continuously saves and compiles.
    I use an ipad. I was interested in knowing how the Pro works with VS because that's the main reason I would get one.

  5. The trackpad seems to be an issue. Can you disable it and still use the keyboard?
    Aside from the track pad, can you work in VS all day on the PRO? Could this replace your laptop?

  6. Morten,

    Yep, it's usable. Even better is VS 2013 as it is High DPI aware.

    - John Robbins

  7. Definitely considering the Surface Pro 2. Was a bit worried about the screen size but sounds like Visual Studio plays nicely with it.

  8. Hi John,

    Just wondering if you have continued to use your Surface Pro with Visual Studio? Just wondering if you have an update after using it for a longer period of time.



  9. also for the function keys, you can hold down fn + Caps Lock to toggle between the function keys / windows shortcuts. now you can ctrl F7 all you like...

  10. I bought a Surface Pro 2 128gb. I program in Visual Studio 2013 and It is amazing. Don't get me wrong, I don't carry my 8 lb, core I-7 laptop with a 17 inch screen - which was a bit faster, but the surface pro 2 is great. I highly recommend you get one if you are a developer. I also have the external monitor adapter so I set up two screens when I am at the office or at home, which is a plus as well. If you are a developer you cannot go wrong by purchasing it. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

  11. I considered getting a surface pro, but ended up with a ASUS Taichi ultrabook. Upside is that you can spec it out similar to a Surface Pro2 and the keyboard and trackpad are miles better for all-day use. The downside is that it is certainly too big to hold in one hand in portrait. At 2.7lbs it is also a bit heavier. The two screens add weight but I love the flow of just closing the lid to convert to tablet without any gymnastics. I haven't found any issues with the N-trig digitizer instead of Wacom. The Asus brand case/sleeve is very unassuming which I like for traveling in the developing world.

  12. I had the same problem with my laptop and touchpad with the cursor bouncing all over the place. Settings did not help! After some searching I found which solved the issue for win7/8. Not sure if it will work for surface but worth the try.
    I know this post is old, just thought it may help if you still are having issues.

  13. Hey, I noticed you mentioning the 4gb being a hold back on this. I just wanted to mention that if you get the 256GB or the 512GB versions, they also come with a RAM upgrade to 8GB. Personally, if I were to be doing programming or the like on the tablet, I would prefer the 256GB or 512GB versions. The extra HD space and the extra RAM would relieve any memory and space issues that might come up with the 64/128GB versions while doing lots of development.

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