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29 July 2013 | 0

The path to using the Surface Pro as my main device has been beset with problems, and also provided a few learning opportunities.

First of all, I discovered that the miniDisplayPort 1.1a implementation will not drive multiple screens. This was a disappointment, but it will allow the connection of an external video controller that can drive up to three screens of up to 1980 x 1080 resolution, so that’s not all bad. I will be using a 610mm screen, as well as the native display, so that should be good enough.

However, the main problem seemed to be that our chosen mail service, Google Apps Mail, had problems with the new versions of Microsoft Outlook – the so called "click-to-run" versions of Office 365.

 

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The problem was that the Google Apps Sync tool (GAST), which sits between the service and Outlook allowing the synchronisation of mail, calendar, contacts, notes and tasks, did not recognise the new versions of Outlook. Google had said earlier this year that it had no plans to change this and its recommendation was to obtain an MSI-based installer version of these applications. As Microsoft is currently keen to promote its Office365 services, that was defeating the purpose a little in the current experiment.

After much web searching, I found a US resource that purported to be from a Google source suggesting a work around.

This workaround consisted of the following: install Outlook 2010 from disc (MSI-based install). Install the Google Apps Sync tool. Set up the mail profile in GAST and open Outlook. It does not need to do a full synchronisation.

Close Outlook. Install Office 365 version of Outlook. Do not open it!

Go to the Control Panel, and under Mail, ensure that that the Google Apps mail profile is selected under Profiles. Open Outlook from Office 365 and the Google Apps Sync tool should open and work with the new Outlook.

I did all that and it didn’t. Dang.

So, I resigned myself to not using Outlook 2013 and got on with my life. But this week when I tried to finally move over to the Surface Pro, I found a few other things that all seemed to be going against me.

Suddenly, peripherals, such as a Windows 8 gesture mouse would not work properly, and other settings seemed to go awry too. All of which had been working previously and had been crossed off the ‘to do’ list.

In Holmesian style, I began to look at the possibilities, to eliminate the impossible and see what was left, however improbable.

Alas, the answer came quickly – Windows 8.1 Preview.

While attending the Microsoft EMEA TechEd, I was able to tap into the wealth of knowledge about the Surface devices to answer some questions. I also took advantage of the hand-outs there, one of which was the ISO for the 8.1 Preview. I had installed it before I left the Press room.

Realising that most of my issues seemed to have arisen since installing the preview, pretty though it is, I decided to remove it.

So, after a long process of uninstallation (very easy) and updating the base OS again (long and boring), I decided that this tabula rasa (excuse the pun) was perfect to start again.

I tried the Google work around and lo and behold, it worked! As did all the hardware and app settings which had so suddenly gone awry. Indeed, this very missive is being written on the device, in Word 2013, while Outlook 2013 happily synchronises through the GAST.

Yea!

All of which brings me to something of a point.

The experience with GAST and Outlook 2013 ‘click-to-run’ highlights an important issue. As companies compete they sometimes lose sight of an important component in the equation: the customer. I have become accustomed over the years to using Microsoft Office and have generally found it to be about the best productivity suite out there. So, after years of exposure I have a comfort level and knowledge that I am loathe to abandon. However, my company has chosen to use Google Apps Mail as our primary email service with good reason-it serves our style of usage and needs better than any other service currently.

I would imagine that situation is not uncommon at all. So to have a stated "incompatibility" stand in the way of a not uncommon choice seems ludicrous. It makes it sound as if some fundamental technical issue prevents these services working together, as they had done in the past. And yet, the fact that a simple workaround, such as the order in which things are installed, has meant that the "incompatibility" is rendered negligible, is quite frankly, ridiculous.

This issue shows that this is not an incompatibility but rather a permitted clash to prevent people from easily integrating two services that may be seen to be competing. All this does is alienate users who wish to have choice in the services and applications they use to suit themselves and best serve their own organisations.

This particular combination can by no means be said to be obscure or unusual and so there is no excuse, bar petty competition, for this so called "incompatibility" as it is an engineered incompatibility. The workaround shows that incontrovertibly.

I do hope that all sides here cop on to the fact that an unhappy customer is a far worse prospect than an un-won customer, and sorts this situation out. In the meantime, I shall be using a very competent device in the manner I wish to see if there’s anything in this desktop replacement tablet lark.

 

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