Backing up your Surface RT

Backing up your Surface RT 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

surface-rt-backupI recently wrote a short review about the Surface RT for business use. Well, you apparently picked one up and asked us how to back it up. So let’s jump in.

We all know the importance of backing up your data.  This is even more important for ultra-mobile devices like tablets and ultrabooks.  These devices get dropped, wet, left in taxis, pubs and restaurants.   We also let our children play with them, who may install all sorts of apps with potential malware.

Now there is a plethora of backup and file replication software for regular Windows PCs, so you’d think this would apply to the Tablets, right?  The problem is that Windows Surface RT tablets have a different processor, as well as a tablet-optimized version of Windows 8.  This means that regular Windows software can’t be installed. However all is not lost.

Normally when we do a backup, we like to take an ‘image’ of the machine.  This allows us to restore everything from a single file, or even the entire operating system quickly in the event of a disaster. Since there are currently no third party tools to do this on the Windows Store for Surface RT, we have to take the image manually.  To do this, search for ‘recovery’ under settings (intuitive, right?), then you can back up to an external USB hard disk.  Given that most users will likely not go through this process on a regular basis, Microsoft has fortunately put some rudimentary backup functionality in by default.

There are three essential software components of any computer. These are: the underlying Operating System (in this case, Windows 8 RT); the applications (such as Office 2013); and user data (such as your Word documents). Each of these has backups managed in a different way.

For the Operating System, the Surface keeps a 4Gb partition on the local hard disk with an original copy of the operating system.  This will be used to reinstall Windows back to its initial configuration when you use the ‘restore to defaults’ option.  You might need to do this if Windows update ever fails for some reason.

For the Applications, you will almost always source these from the Windows Store.  Every app that you purchase and download gets linked to your Microsoft Live account. So if you ever have to replace or completely reinstall your tablet, it’s simply a matter of logging onto the Windows Store with the same credentials and your apps will already be there ready to download again.

Lastly, there are your data files such as your Word documents and Excel spread sheets.  This is where SkyDrive comes in.  SkyDrive comes free with your Windows Live account and gives you 7GB of free storage that will sync with your desktop PC, assuming you also use Windows 8 and use the same Microsoft account.  The thing to note with SkyDrive is that it will keep only keep a cached copy of Office documents so you can work without wi-fi.   For other file types such as PDFs, you will need to copy them out of the SkyDrive and onto your desktop or documents folder on the tablet if you ever need to access the offline.

Review: Windows Surface RT Tablet

Review: Windows Surface RT Tablet 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

surface-rtLike most business users, the killer application for me has always been Microsoft Office, and if I want a tablet for work, ideally I would want Outlook for my emails and PowerPoint for presentations. With Microsoft recently dropping the pricing of their entry level Surface RT tablet, and announcing that Windows 8.1 will include Outlook, I thought it was time I got hold of one of these and see how it stacks up against its competitors.

First impressions

Case: the metal  feels sturdy, yet it is still light in weight. This is great considering you will be lugging the thing around. The metal kickstand is also a nice feature.

Screen: bright and clear. The resolution may not be quite as high as the iPad, but it certainly does the job.

User Interface: I already run Windows 8 on my laptop, so I was already familiar with how to find my way around the UI (User Interface). I still question some of Microsoft’s design decisions though, like hiding the search functions within an application in the side menus (which they call ‘charms’).

Responsiveness: the UI responds quickly, and there is no lagging when you scroll (which is noticeable on many android tablets). Some applications do take a few seconds to start, but being a tablet I’m not expecting it to be as fast as a regular PC.

Keyboard: This is cool. I opted for the upgraded keyboard, which has a much more tactile feel. It snaps in place with magnets and can be added and removed at will. This is really useful for people who can type faster than they can write. I still found myself using the touchscreen for much of the navigation though, even though the keyboard has an integrated mouse touchpad.

Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are all there with full functionality. Outlook is coming in October (along with version 8.1). The apps don’t run overly fast but they still have full functionality. It would be nice if they were more integrated into the metro interface, rather than relying on the desktop, which almost seems like an afterthought.

App Store: The number of apps currently on the Windows Store is very limited; I’d guess maybe 1,000 which is a long way from the 375,000 available for the iPad. However since I only want this for business use, I don’t need a lot of apps for the time being.

Price: For $500 I got the 32GB tablet, enhanced keyboard and a cover. A base iPad 4 with 32GB retails for around $650, so the Surface is certainly good value.

Overall, pretty good to start with, now for the annoyances:

Like all good IT Pro’s, the first thing I did was try to update the software to patch any security vulnerabilities. Updating an iPad or Android tablet requires a single update and reboot. Not so with Windows.

I had to go through the update process 6 times, each update involved downloading 20 to 40 minor updates, each with a reboot or two in between. It literally took 6 hours to get the operating system patched to the latest version. If I had let the system patch itself over a number of days I may have not noticed, but I think this is an area that Microsoft needs to address.

After updating the OS, my next task was to update the pre-installed apps and maybe add a few new ones. Here’s where things went wrong.

A few apps installed okay, but others gave me an undecipherable error (It literally said 0x80070002 error). A quick Google search was to no avail. Out of frustration, I chose to reset back to system defaults which fixed the problem, and fortunately didn’t wipe all the things I’d already set up.

Lastly, email. I mentioned that the new version 8.1 will include Outlook, but is not out yet. While there is a preview version available, I have not installed this as yet, leaving me with the default ‘Mail’ app. Interestingly, Mail detected that I already had an Exchange account, and tried to pre-configure itself, but it did get some of the credentials wrong and required a little manual intervention. The default Mail app is as good as the one on the iPad, but I am still looking forward to using Outlook with all its bells and whistles.

The Bottom Line

The $500 question. Would I recommend one? Microsoft still has a lot of catching up to do, as this is their first attempt at a tablet OS and form factor. For the most part, they are on the right track.

However,  I would not buy one for your kids, as the app store is way too limited for now. For business use, it’s not too bad, and will only get better. Just be prepared to learn all the nuances of operating Windows 8 from a touch screen.