Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 2

God Bless Microsoft Word, eh?

Assum­ing Jesus Christ is in your thoughts this evening before yet anoth­er anniver­sary of his birth, I am infi­nite­ly aston­ished by the truth in what I’m about to sup­pose with you. If the Son of God was liv­ing today, most of us have agreed for a long time now that he’d use mar­i­jua­na recre­ation­al­ly – big fuckin whoop. I think it’s far more inter­est­ing and appro­pri­ate (we all know his birth­day was whol­ly recon­fig­ured into a con­sumerist hol­i­day long ago) to spec­u­late on how he’d behave after find­ing him­self inad­ver­tent­ly in the mar­ket for a new lap­top with­in the ~$1000 range (fol­low­ing a stubbed toe whilst walk­ing on water inci­dent, per­haps.) Sure­ly, it would not be entire­ly holy for him to opt in to the Fox­conn-com­plic­it world of Apple, Incor­po­rat­ed, nor the open­ly-blas­phe­mous one cre­at­ed and exu­ber­ant­ly grown by Google LLC, and I’m afraid he’d be too much of an End User idiot to inte­grate any of the sparse Lin­ux-ded­i­cat­ed hard­ware avail­able. In May of 2017, how­ev­er, Bil­ly Gates’ old Microsoft final­ly released “the lap­top we’ve always want­ed them to make,” but could its recent update be tru­ly wor­thy of our Lourde and Sav­iour? Or your new­ly-enrolled off­spring? Should you sprint down­stairs and swap out the new Mac­Book Air you just bought?

From an entire­ly valid per­spec­tive, an observ­er might declare my last two months of 2018 to be an out­right shame­ful peri­od defined by hypocrisy and trai­tor­ous betray­als. After final­ly tak­ing the time to explore the full nar­ra­tive sur­round­ing Lin­ux and the bloody tale of Microsoft’s cru­el geno­ci­dal destruc­tion of count­less cre­ative soft­ware projects through­out computing’s ado­les­cence (see: “Embrace, Extend, Extin­guish,”) I even­tu­al­ly declared myself “100% Open Source” and began out­lin­ing an essay designed pri­mar­i­ly to express that Lin­ux is final­ly ready to be the oper­at­ing sys­tem of the peo­ple with­out suc­cumb­ing imme­di­ate­ly to the brand of cyber­crack­pot ille­git­i­ma­cy asso­ci­at­ed with the L-word in the minds of the gen­er­al pub­lic so read­i­ly thanks to decades of mis­in­formed, con­de­scend­ing neck­beards. Such a feat would require entire new planes of cul­tur­al aware­ness and dialec­tal del­i­ca­cy, yet cer­tain­ly result in zero per­son­al reward from even the best pos­si­ble out­come, yet I pro­ceed­ed to pon­der the sub­ject very delib­er­ate­ly all the way through Octo­ber because I gen­uine­ly believed in a new democ­ra­tized future of com­put­ing. 2018 had been my Grand Awak­en­ing to the idyl­lic pos­si­bil­i­ties of Free and Open Source Soft­ware (FOSS) across the whole applied spec­trum from office suites to social net­works, yet – as two thou­sand eigh­teen comes to an end – I’ve man­aged to find myself among the most jad­ed, soul-sapped tech com­mu­ni­ty I have yet encoun­tered: Microsoft Admin­is­tra­tors.

Com­pli­ment­ing this Lin­ux-laden cul­ture in which I was not so long ago deeply embed­ded was a con­fused and frus­trat­ed out­look regard­ing what I felt were exces­sive and com­plete­ly idi­ot­ic sac­ri­fices across the industry’s hard­ware design to the greedy, glut­to­nous god of Light­ness. It seemed only rea­son­able to Myself As Con­sumer that the entire buy­ing pub­lic should exclu­sive­ly seek designs pri­or­i­tiz­ing great­est pos­si­ble per­for­mance and bat­tery life, even from portable com­put­ers and smart­phones, so I assumed my per­spec­tive on this updat­ed iter­a­tion of Microsoft’s most lap­topy Sur­face lap­top – which exists in large part to com­pete direct­ly with Apple’s beloved (and just-updat­ed) Mac­Book Air – wouldn’t be at all use­ful. How­ev­er, a few weeks ago, my employ­er prompt­ed me with a sweet sweet ulti­ma­tum: for the sake of a tax break, I want to spend ~$1000 on a lap­top for you as soon as pos­si­ble. Yes, I know I should con­sid­er myself a very for­tu­nate man — this wasn’t even the first time I’d been sur­prised with the “hey, I want to buy you a lap­top but it has to be today” expe­ri­ence, and may even be con­sid­ered a sort of sequel to my Tales of Whirl­wind Man­ic Con­sumerism, but it’s ulti­mate­ly one of the most idi­ot­ic strate­gies to achieve a major pur­chase deci­sion and com­plete­ly inad­vis­able for any­one on a bud­get. Still I was indeed thank­ful to be put in a near­ly-iden­ti­cal sit­u­a­tion of Con­sumer Elec­tron­ic haste, and have come to be espe­cial­ly appre­cia­tive of the spe­cif­ic time I was approached as such: just one week after Microsoft launched the Sur­face Lap­top 2.

Con­sid­er­ing the vast major­i­ty of its users are trapped inside my tele­vi­sion, there’s no harm in cov­er­ing the Sur­face brand with our vir­tu­al palm for a moment. If you’ll indulge me so, you’ll notice that Microsoft has actu­al­ly deliv­ered unto us The Lap­top II – as in, the sequel… the suc­ces­sor to every oth­er lap­top com­put­er yet con­ceived… but does this one machine tru­ly rep­re­sent the sec­ond com­ing of the Note­book Christ? Nat­u­ral­ly, it would be a bit zeal­ous to stand behind this extreme state­ment with 100% sin­cer­i­ty, but there tru­ly are cer­tain ele­ments of this Per­son­al Com­put­ing product’s exe­cu­tion which do indeed will its user to expect and/or desire from oth­ers in com­ing years. As I’ve stat­ed before, I also sim­ply can­not help but be jazzed by such brava­do from the mouths of even a com­pa­ny with as crooked and hate­ful his­to­ry as Microsoft’s. (Note: no oth­er tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny has actu­al­ly achieved what Microsoft his­tor­i­cal­ly has in this regard, and hope­ful­ly none ever will again.)

I must be hon­est: it hasn’t yet been two months and I’ve already scuffed and per­haps even stained the beau­ti­ful maroon alcan­tara sur­round­ing my machine’s touch­able body, but it’s occurred to me that I might draw upon the vast library of auto­mo­tive inte­ri­or tuto­ri­als avail­able on YouTube – and even pur­chase some of the alcan­tara care-spe­cif­ic prod­ucts they rec­om­mend – in order to real­ly main­tain the exte­ri­or of the Lap­top II. After all, alcan­tara was unde­ni­ably car culture’s mate­r­i­al first. I should also con­fess that objec­tive­ly, the Sur­face Lap­top II is the best-suit­ed com­put­er for my per­son­al uses that I’ve ever owned or used for any length of time. Sub­jec­tive­ly, I don’t think all of the hard­ware design touch­es that make it so – like its key­board lay­out, divine 3:2 aspect ratio, and par­tic­u­lar I/O com­ple­ment – have yet had the chance to seduce my emo­tion­al brain into tru­ly lov­ing it as much as I cer­tain­ly should by any rea­son­able mea­sure. For my own sake, I hope I’m able to fall in child-like infat­u­a­tion with its mag­ic, but in the inter­im, I believe the cold­ness of my heart should hope­ful­ly pre­serve any use­ful com­men­tary I might have to add. Though this is undoubt­ed­ly the most time­ly review of a hard­ware prod­uct I’ve ever pub­lished, I’d still ask that you indulge my per­spec­tive sug­gest­ing the impor­tance of con­sid­er­ing it part of a pack­age with its oper­at­ing sys­tem, con­sid­er­ing that the whole of tech media would’ve unan­i­mous­ly declared it the year’s “best lap­top” were Apple’s aging, but still wide­ly-adored MacOS absent from the frame.

I’ve test­ed a bunch of lap­tops this year, run­ning the spec­trum of 2-in-1s, Chrome­books, Mac­Books, gam­ing lap­tops, etc. Everyone’s needs are going to be dif­fer­ent, which is why there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all for lap­tops. But enthu­si­asts’ lap­tops aside, I strong­ly feel the Sur­face Lap­top 2 is the best lap­top of the year. And by that I mean the best lap­top for most folks’ needs.

With as much humil­i­ty as pos­si­ble, I must add that I myself am any­thing but “most folks,” yet my expe­ri­ence so far with the prod­uct has been one of aston­ish­ing com­pat­i­bil­i­ty and bat­tery life. Using rec­om­mend­ed pow­er set­tings, the Sur­face Lap­top 2 endured four hours and twen­ty-two min­utes of a work­load it wasn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly designed for includ­ing heavy web brows­ing, image manip­u­la­tion, brief audio/video cap­ture with OBS, and mod­er­ate sub­se­quent edit­ing in Audac­i­ty and Open­Shot. Dan Seifert – Vox Media’s “only Win­dows user” – report­ed “about sev­en hours” of Microsoft’s claimed 14.5, but frankly, I don’t know what any of y’all are doin – I’m just thank­ful this machine is a bet­ter marathon­er than any oth­er I can recall own­ing. While we’re on the sub­ject, I con­sid­er Microsoft’s inclu­sion of a mag­net­i­cal­ly-attached pow­er cable and unas­sum­ing aux­il­iary USB charg­ing port on the attached pow­er sup­ply to be per­son­al god­sends – fur­ther evi­dence, even, that the Sur­face Lap­top 2 was actu­al­ly designed to be nice to use. For the sake of those read­ers actu­al­ly in the mar­ket for a new lap­top who’ve some­how found them­selves here, though, Ray­mond Wong’s review for Mash­able is the most thor­ough offer­ing you’ll find – it’s quot­ed front and cen­ter on Microsoft’s web page for the Lap­top II, even – but it’s impor­tant to men­tion that his crit­i­cal com­par­a­tive per­spec­tive pre­dates the late launch of its ulti­mate com­peti­tor, the new Mac­Book Air. Rather piti­ful­ly, how­ev­er, his colleague’s “good, but not great” res­o­lu­tion sug­gests that Apple failed to chal­lenge Microsoft’s rel­a­tive­ly mod­er­ate update enough to war­rant any revi­sion, and that Mash­able as a pub­li­ca­tion stands by my new laptop’s Best of the Year title, for what­ev­er it may or may not be worth to you.

If the new Mac­Book Air came in at the same price as the old one, it would be a steal. Sure, you pay for the priv­i­lege of being able to use macOS on the Apple ecosys­tem. But in years past that also meant access to cut­ting-edge fea­tures and design. As pret­ty as the Mac­Book Air is, there’s noth­ing that inno­v­a­tive about it. In today’s Apple, it seems, priv­i­lege amounts to just stay­ing cur­rent.

You won’t find many oth­ers who reg­u­lar­ly invest edi­to­r­i­al mer­it in pub­lish­ing 2500+ word lap­top reviews any­more, which I’d con­cede is plen­ty rea­son­able in the Sur­face Laptop’s case, at least. Per­haps your first point of com­par­a­tive entry should be a bare­ly-dat­ed con­ver­sa­tion between Kara Swish­er, Lau­ren Goode, and Dan Seifert on Too Embar­rassed to Ask regard­ing the original’s odds of tru­ly com­pet­ing in the “pre­mi­um lap­top” seg­ment (if you’d pre­fer to hear from those who strug­gle to take it seri­ous­ly, that is.) Assum­ing the orig­i­nal prod­uct direc­tion of the Sur­face line still stands, Microsoft doesn’t actu­al­ly intend to sell at high vol­ume, espe­cial­ly when it comes to this runt of the mar­que, which does not hes­i­tate to omit itself from the pop­u­lar dis­course of the moment sur­round­ing tablets as the future of all com­put­ing to which all of its sib­lings have con­tributed so much. Though I shall always remem­ber my dear­est Libel (the spe­cial edi­tion Spec­tre x360 with which I built most of Extra­tone) with great respect and deep fond­ness – I think it’s even worth mount­ing on some sort of plinth – the sig­nif­i­cant­ly-cheap­er Lap­top II has already demon­strat­ed true val­ue in its “pre­mi­um” seg­ment brag­ging rights with far supe­ri­or mate­ri­als and build qual­i­ty. If you’re look­ing for the pret­ti­est pos­si­ble slice of mag­ne­sium light­ness but aren’t the sort to have fol­lowed the sto­ry of Microsoft’s first ven­ture into per­son­al com­put­er pro­duc­tion since it began in the last year of the Mayan cal­en­dar, it’s worth your while to read Joshua Topolsky’s pro­jec­tions of the project’s impact on the pop­u­lar nar­ra­tive sur­round­ing Microsoft from history’s fresh­est pos­si­ble per­spec­tive: the eve of the first Sur­face tablet’s launch.

The entire tablet was designed in-house by Microsoft’s teams, and if you believe what was said in the pre­sen­ta­tion yes­ter­day, design and func­tion­al­i­ty in hard­ware has sud­den­ly become a big deal in Red­mond. That’s a big shift, and it’s an impor­tant one. The announce­ment of the Sur­face shows that Microsoft is ready to make a break with its his­to­ry — a his­to­ry of hard­ware part­ner­ships which relied on com­pa­nies like Dell, HP, or Acer to actu­al­ly bring its prod­ucts to mar­ket. That may burn part­ners in the short term, but it could also give Microsoft some­thing it des­per­ate­ly needs: a clear sto­ry.

A pun­gent stig­ma fes­tered from Microsoft’s his­to­ry of inad­e­quate and inel­e­gant pub­lic rela­tions (espe­cial­ly com­pared to its great­est long­time rival) has remained in relent­less­ly obvi­ous orbit around every “sig­nif­i­cant” Win­dows and Office update for so long that its sta­tus quo has grown into a tru­ly inhib­i­tive force for all par­ties involved. Topol­sky is unques­tion­ably a com­pro­mis­ing favorite of mine, but it’s hard not to decry then-CEO Steve Ballmer’s fail­ure to com­pre­hend Josh’s day-after insight in the whole three months that passed before his Seat­tle Times inter­view in Sep­tem­ber, 2012. Ulti­mate­ly, The Big M is either inca­pable of under­stand­ing any alter­na­tive utopic Visions of Com­put­ing to its own, or sim­ply over­wrought with the same coun­teraspi­ra­tional care­less­ness its cul­ture has always depend­ed upon. In ana­lyt­i­cal terms regard­ing Ballmer’s uti­liza­tion of the forum’s oppor­tu­ni­ty to final­ly tell the fuck­ing sto­ry, at least, the timid­i­ty of a term like “pre-emi­nent soft­ware” as a viably bright new bea­con in con­trast with “peo­ple would say we were a soft­ware com­pa­ny” (empha­sis mine) – as if Steve-O him­self doesn’t even have the pow­er to pub­licly describe his company’s func­tion as its #1 man – com­bined at the apex of what was almost impres­sive­ly-neg­li­gent behav­ior.

I think when you look for­ward, our core capa­bil­i­ty will be soft­ware, (but) you’ll prob­a­bly think of us more as a devices-and-ser­vices com­pa­ny. Which is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. Soft­ware pow­ers devices and soft­ware pow­ers these cloud ser­vices, but it’s a dif­fer­ent form of deliv­ery…

Don’t make the same mis­take I did and wear your­self out try­ing to extract the mean­ing from these three sen­tences – there’s none to be found. Ulti­mate­ly, what­ev­er oppor­tu­ni­ty the Sur­face project could have pro­vid­ed for Microsoft’s iden­ti­ty has been vast­ly over­shad­owed by its suc­cess as last resort super­cat­a­lyst to restore any sense of dig­ni­ty and pride with­in the hard­ware com­pa­nies who pro­duce the vehi­cles. In Fall 2017, The Reg­is­ter quot­ed indus­try gos­sip regard­ing the company’s new CEO Satya Nadel­la and his intent to “exit the prod­uct line” because “over­all they are not mak­ing mon­ey [and] it doesn’t make sense for them to be in this busi­ness,” but new­com­ers to this con­ver­sa­tion should know that no sub­se­quent report­ing has cor­rob­o­rat­ed any­thing but a sus­tain­ing future of the line, though the mea­sur­able rate of inno­va­tion in Microsoft’s prod­ucts con­tin­ues to leave much to be desired. Now that you’ve heard from the experts, though, allow me to expand our lens a bit and exam­ine what the Sur­face Lap­top 2’s exis­tence sug­gests as per The Present & Future of Com­put­ing.

The Clam Clan

In case I’ve yet to men­tion it, all of my tech writ­ing is in sub­stan­tial debt to my much-old­er and child-ori­ent­ed sib­lings for pro­vid­ing 8 nieces and nephews over the course of 11 years – if not for any rea­son but the per­spec­tive offered by the slight­est obser­va­tion of their day-to-day lives. In this pro­found­ly bizarre and his­toric tech­no­log­i­cal sprint our species is expe­ri­enc­ing, the dif­fer­ences in their respec­tive rela­tion­ships with con­sumer tech as they’ve grown up are fas­ci­nat­ing­ly… dis­turbing­ly sig­nif­i­cant. My eldest niece Abby was born four years after myself in 1998, and her younger sis­ter Amber just quite three years lat­er in 2001. All three of us are Aquar­i­ans who went to the same pub­lic schools (aside from 2 excep­tions on my part,) and the two sis­ters have been close, sig­nif­i­cant influ­ences on each oth­er all their lives, yet the way Abby and I use and think about com­put­ers dif­fers sig­nif­i­cant­ly from Amber’s. Our first real PCs intro­duced an impor­tant social and intel­lec­tu­al vehi­cle to our pre-teen lives, and both of us still “live on” our machines as young adults. For us and many oth­ers from this short-lived micro­gen­er­a­tion of ours, bud­get lap­tops like the Dell Inspiri­on 2200 (which served as the first “real com­put­er” for both of us) intro­duced the inter­net and Being Online as a State of Being with AIM groups, MySpace, and Yahoo! chain mails before smart­phones and tablets were capa­ble of doing so.

Amber prefers to use her iPhone for most every­thing and regards her com­put­er as a tool for work – it’s boot­ed up and down exclu­sive­ly for that pur­pose, which is sig­nif­i­cant­ly health­i­er than the habit Abby, myself, and many of my Online friends devel­oped: we left our com­put­ers run­ning and Logged On all the time because we were oth­er­wise unreach­able. We learned from ori­gin to depend on them for 100% of our com­put­ing tasks – from stream­ing Pan­do­ra to play­ing Flash games with­in six bil­lion open brows­er tabs – which like­ly explains both our ADD and its result­ing influ­ence on the ease with which our per­son­al com­put­ers can dis­tract us. As a Jour­nal­ism stu­dent and pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er, Abby uses the new 15-inch Mac­Book Pro, and [Insane Blog­ger] David Blue has spent years look­ing for an alter­na­tive, becom­ing the first and only iPhone user to make exten­sive use of its Blue­tooth key­board sup­port in the process, but both of us are entire­ly unin­ter­est­ed in the rest of the industry’s insis­tence on con­vert­ibles, remov­able key­boards, or ‘pro­fes­sion­al’ tablets. I wish the Lin­ux com­mu­ni­ty was final­ly ready to drop the elit­ist pre­tens­es plagu­ing its nerdy his­to­ry; I wish I could final­ly tell some­one like Abby that a machine like the System76 Gala­go Pro could slot itself into her work­flow with­out los­ing her time or com­pat­i­bil­i­ty – that the rep­u­ta­tion sur­round­ing Lin­ux Peo­ple had final­ly lost most of its valid­i­ty and her desire to learn more about com­put­ing as a young woman and Pow­er User would be met with respect­ful and worth­while con­ver­sa­tion from their end. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I’ve still found some of the Old Guard to be elit­ist, social­ly behind, and juve­nile­ly pos­ses­sive, as if com­put­ing was still the niche inter­est from their 1980s and 90s child­hoods. Though this con­ver­sa­tion cer­tain­ly war­rants its own essay in the future, I’ll just express now that it’s a real shame some folks don’t real­ize the entire point of mak­ing great things is ulti­mate­ly to give them to the world.

I may or may not have bought an entire out­fit to match the Sur­face Lap­top 2, but it’s yet to be seen whether or not I have the courage to do a pho­to­shoot with My New Machine.

The oppor­tu­ni­ty I’ve had in the past year to final­ly get my Lin­ux dis­tro fren­zy over with and out of my sys­tem man­aged to both rad­i­cal­ize and democ­ra­tize my under­stand­ing of MacOS, Win­dows, and Lin­ux as they are in the present. While I had noth­ing bet­ter to do, fid­dling with Ubun­tu Stu­dio and Lin­ux Mint to the extent I did through­out Spring and Sum­mer led me to fur­ther appre­ci­ate the val­ue of key­board short­cuts, gave me my first real pro­fi­cien­cy with a com­mand line, helped glob­al­ize my com­pre­hen­sion of my own tech­no­log­i­cal priv­i­lege, reac­quaint­ed me in a huge way with both the true his­to­ry of soft­ware and my own per­son­al past as an exper­i­men­tal test tube baby of Microsoft’s, and helped to answer a lot of ques­tions I’d wor­ried over for years about why soft­ware seemed like it sim­ply couldn’t improve any­more. While it’s true that impor­tant open source projects like Ele­men­taryOS con­tin­ue to sprout from the Linus Extend­ed Uni­verse and the grow­ing Open Source com­mu­ni­ty on Mastodon is filled with bril­liant, help­ful, unpre­ten­tious, and remark­ably curi­ous enthu­si­asts (prob­a­bly because many of those I’ve inter­act­ed with so far are non-cis and/or non-white,) lit­tle ole me was able to stum­ble upon some total­ly unnec­es­sary and excru­ci­at­ing­ly igno­rant sociopo­lit­i­cal com­men­tary by way of the white, mid­dle-age host and his undoubt­ed­ly-white and staunch­ly lib­er­tar­i­an caller on a live broad­cast of the Ask Noah Show. (It’s not as if I haven’t said igno­rant and very ugly things too, but I wasn’t a forty-some­thing father on a semi-pro­fes­sion­al talk show rep­re­sent­ing an entire com­mu­ni­ty.)

Essen­tial­ly, I was quite frus­trat­ed and dis­ap­point­ed to find that Lin­ux is still let down most by its own com­mu­ni­ty, but the oper­at­ing sys­tem itself is still much fur­ther along on its way to becom­ing a real alter­na­tive for the aver­age user than main­stream tech jour­nal­ism would have you believe. How­ev­er, in my case, final­ly tak­ing the time to real­ly learn about Open Source com­put­ing also helped me under­stand (sur­pris­ing­ly) why Apple and its envi­ron­ment con­tin­ue to be the best and most pop­u­lar choice for pro­fes­sion­al appli­ca­tions. Lin­ux Mint gave me tremen­dous pow­er in enabling me to alter, spec­i­fy, and redesign the most minute details of its inter­face, but I couldn’t have fore­seen how all-con­sum­ing such pow­er would be for some­one like myself. In ret­ro­spect, I’ve real­ized that I end­ed up spend­ing more time per­fect­ing my cus­tom Libre­Of­fice Writer short­cuts than I did actu­al­ly writ­ing – I some­how found myself in a mind state which jus­ti­fied uniron­i­cal­ly cre­at­ing a short­cut for the Short­cuts menu. Though I swore I’d nev­er suc­cumb to the bewil­der­ing hob­by of col­lect­ing and explor­ing dif­fer­ent Lin­ux Dis­tri­b­u­tions, it took no time at all for me to fill a fold­er with disc images of the installers for almost a dozen dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions of the oper­at­ing sys­tem after I’d made the sim­ple con­ces­sion to myself that I’ll just try Ubun­tu, that’s all. The most pro­found real­iza­tion from all this (arguably oth­er­wise wast­ed) time: for a user like me, a walled gar­den is actu­al­ly the best place to be pro­duc­tive because appar­ent­ly, I don’t have the self-con­trol to keep myself from run­ning away and/or fix­at­ing on com­plete­ly unpro­duc­tive tasks with­out its bound­aries. I think this phe­nom­e­non is per­haps the worst cul­prit in the per­sis­tence of the afore­men­tioned divide between “com­put­er peo­ple” and every­one else who sim­ply uses com­put­ers, as I’m sure any one of the lat­ter could tell you after all of five min­utes with a Linus type.

The most com­pre­hen­sive and some­what-urgent revi­sion to illus­trate the sig­nif­i­cance of this con­trast from my per­spec­tive regards the excep­tion­al iOS/MacOS mark­down-based note­tak­ing app Bear. Frankly, my own “Word Pro­cess­ing Method­ol­o­gy” essay from June has already become prob­lem­at­i­cal­ly out of date (and there­fore embar­rass­ing) in terms of my own knowl­edge of the seg­ment and its his­to­ry. Though I promised the con­ver­sa­tion was “done,” I’ve con­tin­ued to explore fur­ther into word processing’s his­to­ry as well as its cur­rent state. “I had a go at Bear’s free iOS expe­ri­ence and saw lit­tle func­tion­al dif­fer­ence from Day­One,” the old, neg­li­gent, cur­so­ry David Blue not­ed, but if I’d sim­ply been will­ing to cough up a bit more time and just $1.49 a month for Bear Pro, I’d have spared myself such shame and real­ized that the hype around this app real­ly is 100% jus­ti­fied. Bear is the most beau­ti­ful iOS app I’ve ever seen, but I’m now also ful­ly qual­i­fied to declare it the most effec­tive exe­cu­tion of “dis­trac­tion-free” writ­ing soft­ware to come along in the past 25 years. Devel­op­er Shiny Frog’s secret is their per­fect bal­ance between capa­bil­i­ty and sim­plic­i­ty. It turns out, Dai­ly Con­tent Lord Casey Newton’s word on this mat­ter real­ly was worth more than mine, not to men­tion more suc­cinct: “Bear may look sim­ple, but there’s pow­er under­neath the sur­face.”

Those long­time Lin­ux and Win­dows diehards who’ve tol­er­at­ed me thus far, lis­ten up: MacOS may be ancient, neglect­ed, and full of incon­gru­en­cies, but its sin­gle-mind­ed method­ol­o­gy paired with Apple’s iCloud real­ly does make it the most effec­tive and ele­gant envi­ron­ment for most peo­ple to sim­ply get shit done. It’s clear that many of you have real­ized the impor­tance of sim­plic­i­ty for com­pact and/or edu­ca­tion­al dis­tri­b­u­tions, but let me just add that the democ­ra­ti­za­tion of Lin­ux pro­vides a gar­gan­tu­an devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ty to make some­thing that beats MacOS at its own game with­out start­ing from such a shit­ty premise and all of its result­ing com­pro­mis­es – all with­out detract­ing from any oth­er tech­ni­cal­ly-mind­ed dis­tri­b­u­tions what­so­ev­er. That is the mag­ic of The Dis­tro, remem­ber?! If you’ve exist­ed in a sim­i­lar state of con­fu­sion to that of my entire adult life regard­ing the appeal of Apple prod­ucts – despite hav­ing once been an exten­sive OSX user, myself – you’re very wel­come for the insight. Instead of pay­ing me for the pro­found self-improve­ment I’ve just pro­vid­ed, try pri­or­i­tiz­ing this new­found knowl­edge the next time you talk to your Mac­Book Pro-lov­ing friend about their work­flow. If you’re like myself, you’ll find their argu­ments have mag­i­cal­ly trans­formed from the bewil­der­ing bull­shit they’ve always seemed to be into chal­lenges for future com­pet­ing oper­at­ing sys­tems to sur­pass Apple’s old bitch and excel in because MacOS and even its much-younger iOS coun­ter­part – as well as the bil­lions of peo­ple who depend on them – des­per­ate­ly need real com­pe­ti­tion in order to main­tain their via­bil­i­ty, much less become what prod­ucts of the world’s wealth­i­est com­pa­ny should be.

Yes, the man­ner in which these oper­at­ing sys­tems are per­ceived real­ly is an impor­tant dis­cus­sion prompt­ed by a prod­uct as insignif­i­cant as the Sur­face Lap­top 2 because as you read, the indus­try is brac­ing for anoth­er par­a­digm shift in com­put­ing, which many believe (pre­pos­ter­ous­ly, I might add) could be as sig­nif­i­cant and dis­rup­tive as 2007’s intro­duc­tion of the iPhone. This machine of Microsoft’s and its “new” Mac­Book Air coun­ter­part could poten­tial­ly be the last designs to car­ry us to a com­put­ing future where the tried-and-true clamshell design is for­gone entire­ly by the main­stream, but Apple’s release of this year’s new iPad Pro prompt­ed even the most Cuper­ti­no-lov­ing tech com­men­ta­tors to respond with gen­uine dis­cord along with a few long-over­due shouts of “are you crazy?!” I’m very proud of The Verge’s Nilay Patel, in par­tic­u­lar, for so elo­quent­ly decon­struct­ing its usabil­i­ty for all but the very wealthy. “It is impos­si­ble to look at a device this pow­er­ful and expen­sive and not expect it to replace a lap­top for day-to-day work,” he reminds us in the intro­duc­tion to his full review of the updat­ed prod­uct, along with a beau­ti­ful­ly tran­sient sen­ti­ment which I think we all need­ed to hear again: “I don’t think peo­ple should adapt to their com­put­ers. Com­put­ers should adapt to peo­ple.” Even some­thing as con­sumerist and bour­geois as the intro­duc­tion of anoth­er pri­ce­point-bur­geon­ing Apple hard­ware flag­ship can turn a sim­ple tablet review into a much-need­ed man­i­festo for a user-cen­tric way for­ward for the indus­try, which is itself wor­thy of cel­e­bra­to­ry encour­age­ment.

I’ve favored The Verge and its cast long past the point of excess through­out the span of my work about tech­nol­o­gy, but Nilay’s review and its accom­pa­ny­ing episode of The Verge­cast are tru­ly spe­cial and pro­found gems of con­tent that shouldn’t be passed up. Appar­ent­ly – as the Edi­tor-in-Chief imme­di­ate­ly insists as the episode begins – his “ongo­ing the­o­ry” that “the more impor­tant you are, the less actu­al­ly impor­tant work you do, and the more like­ly you are to be an iPad user” roused anger from “that whole class of [bil­lion­aires,]” but the expe­ri­ences behind his argu­ment actu­al­ly sug­gest that Apple’s own favorite child of late – into which it has begun invest­ing and there­by implic­it­ly spon­sor­ing over its much old­er broth­er as the ulti­mate heir of the majority’s future com­put­ing – has unequiv­o­cal­ly failed to do its part in grow­ing the iPad Pro into the “lap­top replace­ment” we’d all heard so much about. Of iOS 12’s per­for­mance as an oper­at­ing sys­tem beneath true work-relat­ed tasks, he exas­per­ates “you have to spend all of your time fig­ur­ing out how to do stuff instead of doing stuff,” which I couldn’t help but hear as echoes of my own late Lin­ux lamen­ta­tions. As thank­ful as I am to have final­ly achieved enlight­en­ment of the Plan­et Apple, I’m afraid I was piti­ful­ly late: its very nat­ur­al laws under­went their most bru­tal tests of the 21st cen­tu­ry this past year. Now that I’ve final­ly come to adore the ele­gant effec­tive­ness of a new gen­er­a­tion of iOS apps like Bear, I’m faced with yet anoth­er of the episode’s state­ments of weight: “I think it’s time to stop pre­tend­ing that the future of com­put­ing looks like Apple’s restric­tions.” On the oppos­ing end of the line, the world’s first tril­lion-dol­lar company’s oth­er major prod­uct release of 2018 man­aged to dis­ap­point even the most fanat­i­cal fans of its orig­i­nal oper­at­ing system’s best-sell­ing plat­form with an insult­ing­ly mediocre update to the Mac­Book Air mar­que upon which it once so fond­ly dot­ed.

My best friend’s par­ents bought her the orig­i­nal Sur­face tablet when she enrolled in art school, and her frus­tra­tion with its lack­lus­ter key­board (among oth­ers) leads MacOS alter­na­tive-seek­ing users like us to wish Microsoft had start­ed with a tra­di­tion­al design like the Sur­face Lap­top first. Per­haps Apple and Microsoft’s empha­sis on their tablets is noth­ing but a bit pre­ma­ture for the most cur­rent crop of users, and the rest of my nieces and nephews will expand upon an entire­ly dif­fer­ent method­ol­o­gy of user­ship when they receive their fresh­man com­put­er. Those elders of us who still take the Clamshell form seri­ous­ly and love print­ing our doc­u­ments are appar­ent­ly fac­ing a future indus­try sat­u­rat­ed with prod­ucts we can’t believe in, but it’s up to you to decide if this issue is worth expend­ing your ener­gy in advo­ca­cy for either camp. With my 120+ word per minute pro­fi­cien­cy with phys­i­cal key­boards, I for one have been com­plete­ly bewil­dered by the iPad as any­thing but an indul­gence for read­ing text on the web, and I’m pleased as punch with my Sur­face Lap­top 2. Even if it proves to be the last new com­put­er I’ll ever own to come as opti­mized for my use, I’m just grate­ful and aston­ished it hap­pens to be the best yet.

Further Notes and Reading

A good com­put­er should not be so user-friend­ly that it tricks you into believ­ing that its world, full of pas­sive con­sump­tion and active sur­veil­lance, is the same as the real one. Instead, it should be just annoy­ing enough and full of weird nov­el­ties to remind you that a com­put­er is just a tool that you use to do stuff… In Mac­World, sync­ing to the cloud is so effort­less that I’ve nev­er actu­al­ly both­ered fig­ur­ing out how to enter the cloud and poke around the archive of my dig­i­tal past. It’s there some­where, prob­a­bly, but find­ing it would take more effort than liv­ing with the latent dread of expo­sure and ridicule.

The best com­put­er is one you hate a lit­tle” — The Out­line
  • Microsoft Announces Sur­face Tablet PC” — PC World
  • Microsoft For­ti­fies Com­mit­ment to Open Source, Becomes Lin­ux Foun­da­tion Plat­inum Mem­ber” — The Lin­ux Foun­da­tion
  • I’m not pos­i­tive, but I believe my Lap­top 2’s cool­ing fan may already be expe­ri­enc­ing some dust-bred block­age
  • Yes, appear­ance is very impor­tant when you spend the mon­ey for a machine like this — the ques­tion I prob­a­bly should’ve ded­i­cat­ed time to con­sid­er: Is the Microsoft Sur­face line actu­al­ly cool?
  • Is the stor­age space enough? Con­firmed: I HAVE ENTERED THE CLOUD
  • The best exe­cu­tion I’ve yet seen of an auto­mat­i­cal­ly back­lit key­board.
  • …but the auto-dim­ming fea­ture of the dis­play should be imme­di­ate­ly dis­abled and left off for good. It’s jumpy enough to be dis­tract­ing and doesn’t actu­al­ly con­tribute much of any­thing to the expe­ri­ence.
  • 3:2 aspect ratio for read­ing and com­po­si­tion — ACROSS THE ENTIRE SURFACE RANGE!!??
  • Once again, I can… touch the web, and once again… I’m not quite sure why. This is the only advan­tage I could see from the Mac­Book Air — Apple’s neg­li­gence is actu­al­ly well-placed in regards to omit­ting a touch screen.
  • I can’t imag­ine ever desir­ing a lap­top even 1/100th of a pound lighter, and I would love to spec­u­late that these two prod­ucts can be the last of the Great Con­sumer Tech Design Diet because it’s left so many of us con­fused even still. It’s just a shame I don’t have a 5th arm/leg hybrid limb to serve as the Lap­top 2’s tray and allow me to con­tin­ue typ­ing at my full capac­i­ty whilst walk­ing around upright.