This week has been a big one for the WPDownUnder household. With a bemused look on our face we watched our oldest child take the next big step in his formative years as he headed off to his first days of High School. Most proud parents would be worried about how they will go making friends, adjusting to the significant change – or even just starting out again on the bottom rung of the social ladder at school. None of that for us (we do have Mrs WPDownUnder taking care of that front for us). Of course our trepidation was centred largely around how would his Surface RT go in the big, wide educational world? Would it stand out like a sore thumb (aka Windows 7 tablet) amongst the long list of bland iPads – or would it be sneered at by the Ultrabook crew with their thin, light-supermodel form factors? Well we didn’t need to worry at all. With a little effort and old-fashioned know-how, the Surface RT has embraced the school environment like the champion it is…Oh, and in case you were wondering, our son did just fine too!
The journey to its first day at High School started back in late December. After letting him know that we were going to get him a tablet or laptop to use at school in 2013, we gave him a week or so to think about it and headed into our local JB-HiFi. Prior to this, I had checked at the school he was attending and confirmed their policy for BYO devices:
Students are not required to have advanced machines or too much software. Our general advice is to purchase a laptop or similar device with at least 2 gig of RAM (4 if affordable) and have Windows and Microsoft Office installed. For an iPad, we would recommend the following Apps; “Pages” “IMovie” and “Quick Office Pro”…. (here’s the bit I really liked, the endorsement) I am very impressed with the iPad as an affordable, portable and highly effective option”
OK – so last bit aside, Surface “should be just fine” in theory. Being wary of any “crushing” experience come Day 1, we had also taken the steps before Christmas and school concluded in early Dec of taking our own Surface RT to the school IT department to confirm it could connect to their network like any device. It worked (can’t say which type of network/protocols they use). The ‘IT guy’ was interested to see the tablet – and confessed they were looking at getting one in 2013 to test.
Now some may scoff at this next comment, however rest assured the words were sincere and <somewhat painfully> true. As we walked into the store, WPDU junior was left in no doubt – that it was HIS choice. If he wanted to buy a… iPad, then that was fine by us! We proceeded to check out the tablets/Ultrabooks on display – and we shared our objective feedback on each format and platform.
“If peer pressure is an issue, and you want to “blend in” – then an iPad will do that. It doesn’t have Office yet, but has an enormous App store. No USB or “smart keyboard” but easy and something the school will be used to.”
“A full mobile PC in laptop or ultrabook form is fine. It will do whatever the school throws at it, but it’s a bit heavier and bulkier (form factor) and you will be lucky to get a FULL day on battery.”
<Android passed over as not a serious contender>
Finally we arrived at the Surface RT Tablet. “Well here you go. You have seen and used ours. We know you can get up to a day and half at school on battery….and it’s instantly on. Yep, the keyboard is way cool – we can get you a Type one to get the most out of school. Sure, it has Office – BUT the App store is relatively tiny, the IT staff at your school probably won’t know much about it (but you have Dad!) – and you can’t install regular old Windows 7 Apps. What do yo think?”
After a look around all the devices, some thinking music – and then a play or two of Jetpack Joyride on the iPad, he came back over to us <we were talking up the Surface to a customer who bought one right there as we chatted to her> WPDU Junior let us know his decision. “Dad. I want the Surface – with the Type Cover.”
BINGO! That’s my boy
With the dangerous waters of alternative devices and platforms safely chartered, we made our purchase (PLEASE READERS, support WPDU and make your purchase via the MS Store afilliate ads on our site – advertorial now over> and left the store. Over the remainder of the holidays WPDU Junior got to know his Surface RT, mostly the games admittedly, before we settled down to prepare for school this week.
In preparation for Day 1 there were some quick checks/lessons we ran through before that important first day at school.
- Office 2013 “Getting Started Guides” were downloaded, re-named (I mean serious MS - what’s with the default D/L names???).
- Onenote Tutorial videos were watched – as neither of us had really played much with this on Windows RT before.
- Basic device management (Desktop, File Manager and the “old” Windows bits.)
- ‘Metro’ start-screen navigation (groups, snap, Mail, IE shortcuts/pinning, screenshots, camera/video use etc)
- Some basic App installs: Skype, Trackpad Settings, Adobe Reader, Cinelab (basic Movie making), PowerDVD Mobile and FreshPaint were also added.
So onto Week 1:
The first days of high school are always going to be huge! We’re happy to report WPDU junior has made it through so far with aplomb…but not without a few Surface uncertainties which he let us know about after school. The initial concerns rested around;
1) The teacher saying the school online student management and curriculum support system (Moodle) really worked best on Mozilla Firefox.
2) One of the school books paid for was not actually a book – it was an online redemption pass to access myworldatlas.com – some of you older folk like us might remember it in your days as the “Jacaranda School Atlas”. No book now – it’s a Flash enabled website…which of course was not on the MS whitelist!
3) An iMovie App equivalent on the Windows RT (the best we could get was Cinelab) – obviously Office 2013 hands-down killed any need for other equivalent iPad apps for Word processing, Excel etc.
The WPDU tech-support mode promptly kicked-in! The issue of Firefox was a non-issue. IE 10 Metro handled Moodle fine, and in no time we had Favourites and pins to WPDU Junior’s Start Screen for the online pages he needed (dashboard, Yr 7 home, profile etc). The movie creation app issue is “sort-of” resolved. We made do….however the need really is there for a Windows RT supported (Windows 8 also) PowerDirector or equivalent moderately featured App as an alternative to the mature features/capability offering of the iMovie program.
The second item was a more tricky, and concerning, issue.
Microsoft need to work on the process for getting a website with Adobe Flash content added to the MS approved and managed Whitelist which they use on the Surface RT as a “lock-down” and added security process for the platform. WPDU Junior was admittedly a little anxious that he may not be able to access his online school books/resources. We of course used the relatively easy, but hard to find for the casual parent of a student with a Surface RT, XDA workaround for blocking the MS whitelist check and maintaining a local file and site list of your own. This gets the job done, but is a less than ideal compromise, as it necessarily stops the ongoing MS updates to the whitelist. You can get more info here. Just try on your Surface RT accessing www.myworldatlas.com.au as an example of the “this site requires Adobe Flash content – click to install” – of course RT won’t let you do that.
Being the pro-active sort, we tracked down the info buried at Internet Explorer Developer Center>Docs>Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8>Get ready for plug-in free browsing>Developer guidance for websites with content for Adobe Flash Player in Windows 8 at this LINK.
We naturally raised a help ticket at www.jacplus.com.au re: this issue, provided the solution (and then replied by email/phone) to their support team. They were grateful for the heads – up, as they had actually had some as yet unresolved support tickets on this exact issue from other Aussie Surface RT student owners! The information was also shared with MSAU – in the hope that this can be better communicated, and the process for adding sites streamlined for users so that it can facilitate faster outcomes.
That aside, the device – from the perspective of a parent as well as tech enthusiast (yes, Geek!) – the Surface RT has been a resounding success so far.
And the final word goes to WPDU Junior……”Awesome! It’s very light. It connects to the school easily and it has Office, which is what I know and have learnt - so it’s easy to use. My Surface has a cool cover/keyboard – it can be used like a tablet, or a laptop – it’s just way better! Today a couple of kids were going to speak to their parents about getting one”
Sheeds – with WPDU Junior