Forest Software on Microsoft Surface Pro

Surface Pro Running Forest Metrix Forestry App

We’ve been developing the Forest Metrix timber inventory app to be Windows compatible all along, so we bought a Surface Pro, loaded the forestry app, and it ran without a hitch the first time. The new Microsoft Surface Pro is essentially a little PC running Windows 8 in the form of a clunky tablet. The good: it does everything a PC does. The bad: it’s a lot clunkier than other tablets, and the Windows 8 interface has its annoyances.

First Impressions:

  • The shape of the device is blocky, and it’s heavy. This does not at all feel like a one-handed device for fast timber inventories. It feels instead like a timber cruise would start to make your arms sore carrying this around. Then again, we’re spoiled by the iPad Mini.
  • The Windows 8 interface is much like the Windows 7 or Windows XP interface, except it manages to make most of the key interface elements you use, such as the start menu, difficult to find, and even move around so that you’re never quite sure where to go to do your next task. But it does add some nice touch screen elements; some of which are absent on the Apple iOS systems. All in all, it’s not a bad first effort for a tablet, and probably would have been very impressive three years ago.
  • It’s a bit expensive relative to the Apples. One without a keyboard, but with decent memory, will set you back about $1,000. Most of the iPad units that consulting foresters, TIMOs, REITs and timber cruisers are using with Forest Metrix cost between $450 and $650.

We bought this tablet for forestry app compatibility testing, and I couldn’t imagine actually using it over an iPad for a timber cruise. I’d sooner bring my laptop into the woods. If Microsoft were to come out with a seven inch tablet version, things could get interesting, providing a bit more competition and yet another prod to Apple to keep innovating. Recent developments (allowing other manufacturers to produce Surface units with lower screen resolutions) suggest that Microsoft is developing just such an update, and we’ll keep everyone updated.

The other implication here is that the operating system most older forestry software systems use – the old PocketPC/WindowsCE systems – is well and truly dead. Microsoft long ago announced they were deprecating that operating system (no longer supporting it) as of March 2013. The king is dead; long live the king.