Visual Studio and the Surface Pro: Great News and Not So Great News
Read the follow up! There's a fix: Unicorns and Puppies ReturnIt 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.
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.