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May 15, 2013 at 7:43 AM

Windows 8.1 Blue: Top 5 things Microsoft needs to fix for Surface RT

I’ve had my Surface RT, Microsoft’s tablet that runs Windows 8, since Christmas. It’s mostly there. Like 90 percent. The kickstand is genius. The swiping gestures to switch between apps is superior to iOS. The Metro design feels fresh and modern. I am sometimes inspired to break into dance when snapping the keyboard and the tablet together, like the dancers in the TV ads directed by Jon Chu.

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But the Surface RT software has issues. Not enough for me to return it, but big enough so that two weeks ago, I went to the Apple store in U. Village and bought a MacBook Air.

This is a really big deal for me. With the exception of the Commodore VIC20 we plugged into our living room television, I’ve been a PC user my entire life. I reported on Microsoft for the business section for three years, so I was lucky enough to get in-depth tours of Microsoft software from people who built it. And like many people who live here, I like to shop local.

Microsoft reporter Janet Tu wrote in a Seattle Times news story Wednesday that Windows 8 users will get a free update in Windows 8.1, code named Blue will

Here is my dream list of what Microsoft will fix in the update for the Surface RT:

1. I want my browser plug-ins.

I want to remote into my newsroom’s VPN (virtual private network). But I can’t download the browser plug-ins needed to connect in a Surface RT. Which means I cannot access our print or Web publishing software. This may not be an issue for you, if you use Windows 8 on a laptop or you own a Surface Pro.

But it’s so significant for me that I have to go out and buy another computer. Do I really want to buy a second device that runs Windows 8 if I already have a Surface RT? The answer is the reason I now own a MacBook Air.

If you are a Surface RT owner, you may someday want to join a Google Hangout. That requires plug-ins too. I recently wanted to record a Google Hangout interview for an upcoming presentation. It required my Windows 7 laptop, my Surface RT, my husband’s Surface Pro and an iPad to untangle.

2. Dude, where are my apps?

Is there an app for Surface RT made by Facebook? If there is, I haven’t found it. The app store is approaching 70,000 apps, according to Janet’s story, and I still can’t find the most basic apps made by the companies who provide the service: Facebook, Youtube, Amazon Prime Video. These are ABC apps. I don’t want a game to slice fruit. The DEF apps: Pinterest, Tumblr, Hootsuite.

There are independent developers out who built apps to connect to some of these services, but the experience is more like shopping at Nordstrom Rack than Nordstrom. I want Facebook to make a Facebook app. I want Google to make a Youtube app.

The apps are supremely important on Surface RT because it will not install any PC-based software, for example, Photoshop. I don’t have access to Windows Live Moviemaker, or the other Windows Live Essentials software package that come with a PC, so I have not been able to edit video. Apps are my only way out. (Or, buy a MacBook that comes with basic video editing software.) I welcome ideas on how to get around this.

It should not be this hard for a company that convinced almost every developer in the world to build software for Windows 30 years ago. The company did it again with the Xbox, when it convinced game developers deeply invested in Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo’s system to make games for Xbox. And yet, Microsoft has continued to stumble in winning developers over for Windows Phone and Surface RT.

Microsoft cannot force another developer to build an app, but it can make it as easy and attractive as possible. From what I’ve heard, the company has offered financial incentives to companies who will make it a priority. Microsoft needs to offer more money for these companies or offer to hire another developer to build it for them. Have a round of pizzas delivered. Fly in some evangelists. Build better developer tools. Throw a Surface RT app conference in Las Vegas, fly in developers for free and give everyone a free Surface RT.

3. I want to attach files to my email.

The email program in Surface RT does not have an option to attach files. So I have to switch to the “desktop,” i.e. PC mode, open up Internet Explorer, go to the Web version of my Outlook or Gmail and write an email in the browser.

4. Sometimes the videos I buy from the Surface Video app don’t work.

I downloaded “Skyfall” to watch on the plane. I got on the plane. I got a message that said the file was the wrong kind. This may be an issue the Windows division needs to work out with the Entertainment and Devices team that works on the Xbox video service.

5. Fix some of the quirks in the Surface RT version of Internet Explorer.

For instance, sometimes I will want to order tickets on a website, and the site will want to open a separate secure window to start the financial transaction. That does not work in the Surface RT version of IE. So I have to switch over to the desktop and open the PC version of IE. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not elegant. It feels like the construction mess on Mercer Street.

It is important for Microsoft to appease Surface RT owners. There are very few of us (which I assume based on the company’s unwillingness to share sales numbers), but we are the loyal and the brave. Surface RT owners are the most powerful evangelists for Windows 8, and Microsoft’s ability to meet Apple, Google and Amazon.com’s challenge in tablet computing.

I would love to return my MacBook Air before my 14-day window ends on Sunday. If anyone has solutions and workarounds, I welcome your recommendations in comments below or at schan@seattletimes.com.

Update 5:55 p.m. 5/17/13:

Thank you to people who tweeted and emailed me about attaching emails in Surface RT. As it turns out, I wasn’t aware there was a pull-up menu from the bottom where I could attach emails.

So I will now replace my No. 3 fix. I would like Microsoft to put the paper clip for attaching emails on the compose-message screen. If Microsoft is trying to win over tablet buyers, it needs to outshine the iPad and Android tablets on the intuitiveness of its interface.

Some commenters say the paper clip is in their compose screen area next to the send button. It’s not on mine. I’ll update all my apps and try again. If the paper clip shows up, I will celebrate the fact that a Surface Genie has granted one of my wishes.

Also, Microsoft has alerted me that Adobe just released a Photoshop app to edit photos for Surface RT. I’m swiping over to check it out.

I’m still scratching my head over why Windows Essentials did not build app versions of its video and photo editing software for Surface RT. I talked to Microsoft by phone and the company declined to comment on it.

I have until end of Saturday to return my MacBook Air. I welcome your lobbying on Twitter. Tweet me @sharonpianchan.

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