Take-away: The new Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 makes an interesting choice for educational organizations engaging GIS in instruction.
Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune to attend EduCause, an educational organization focusing on higher education IT. Among the many interesting technology and pedagogy conversations occurring there, one technology stood out: the new Microsoft Surface withWindows 8. The Surface is a touch-tablet device recently released by Microsoft and runs either 1.) a new operating system, Windows 8 RTor 2.) Windows 8 Pro (compare RT versus Pro). While Windows 8 RT isn’t backwards compatible with your old software, new applications are available in the Windows Store. C-Net has reported that websites running Flash must pass a safety check of sorts, before Windows RT will properly display the websites with Flash content.
Microsoft Surface devices running Windows 8 Pro are to be released in the January 2013, also according to C-Net. The Surface with Windows 8 Pro runs on an Intel chip (rather than an ARM-based processor found in Surface devices with Windows 8 RT) and should run traditional desktop software. Esri has already released the ArcGIS preview app, available in the Windows Store. “The ArcGIS app provides a preview of features that integrate the new touch-centric view of Windows 8 and Windows RT with the ArcGIS Online mapping platform” (Esri blog).
As a long-time iPad user, I find the Surface interesting as it combines the capabilities of both a touch-tablet and traditional laptop. While an iPad puts me in a wonderful place to consume content and rich media, the Surface seems to bridge the need between content creation and content consumption – a fine balance that educators and students must constantly mind. Perhaps this ability is largely due to Surface running Windows 8 Pro, a descendent from a long-line of very popular Microsoft desktop operating systems, rather than a smartphone OS. In either event, with keyboard, USB, micro SDXC, and Wi-Fi the Surface certainly has the ability to feel more like a laptop, when it needs to.
With holidays just around the corner, it might be time to take a closer look. Should you decide to take the leap, let us know how touch-tablets change the way you teach or learn with GIS. We’d really like to hear from you.