Surface Book 2 For Development
Over the past month and a half I've been trying to fully switch to a new work machine. Instead of my trusty MacBook Pro, I've mostly been working with a Microsoft Surface Book 2. Here's my lessons of this period.
Let's start with a bit of context. Over the past 10+ years I've been using Apple laptops exclusively for work. It started when I started my job at Ibuildings and I got the opportunity to choose between a PC laptop and a Mac. I'd heard good things about Mac so I decided to give it a try. When I came home from work after that first day I told my wife "If I ever leave Ibuildings, I'm going to have to buy myself a Mac". I was impressed. The ease of use, the intuitiveness and the user experience were all so nice. So much better than Linux, which I'd been using in the years before. Or even Windows, which I'd been using until Windows ME came out and forced me into the stable hands of Linux.
I've been a full-on Apple fanboi ever since. Until a couple of years ago, there was nothing Apple did that would stop me from using their stuff. The platforms they built were stable and because they control both hardware and software, everything was tuned to each other.
But in the past couple of years I've been a bit more unhappy with Apple's decisions. Their platforms are becoming less stable, less reliable, and more than once I've felt their decisions were based mostly on economics, on money, and not on usability which had been their focus until then (or at least that's how it felt).
When Microsoft first announced the Surface (and later the Surface Book), I was intrigued. A tablet that is also a laptop. Everything in a single device. Powerful enough to work on, yet also easy to bring to a meeting and not have a laptop screen in front of your face. When the first rumours started that Apple was going to introduce an iPad Pro, I sincerely hoped it would be similar: An iPad device running macOS. That would be great!
The announcement of the iPad Pro was a disappointment to me. With it running iOS there was no chance I could do serious development on it. The specs were also disappointing. This was not an option anymore.
My MacBook has been slowly becoming a device that was frustrating me instead of a device that I felt happy to spend 8-12 hours a day on. So I've been looking around. In February I was visiting a Dutch Mediamarkt store to get some stuff, I noticed a Surface Book, and I started playing with it. A Mediamarkt employee came by to give me a demo of some of its features and I was pretty much convinced.
Borrowing a Surface Book
Switching platforms is a big decision however. I've got so much time, effort and money invested in the Apple platform that I'd (at least partially) lose when I switch to Windows, that I really wanted to test-drive the Surface Book before actually making a decision. So I started looking for companies that have Surface Book rental devices. I found several companies but they were all aimed at renting the device for a couple of days, for events and such. If I were to rent it for 2-3 months (which I'd need to really test-drive the device) I could just buy the device. The prices were much higher than anticipated, and long-term rental did not really seem to be a thing. So I reached out to Gerard, one of my contacts inside Microsoft Netherlands, and asked him if he knew of companies that do this. Gerard introduced me to Paul from Microsoft Netherlands, and Paul offered to lend me a device. For free. The only catch was that I'd share my experiences. Given that I was planning on sharing my experiences anyway if I'd find a rental device, I quickly agreed. This was a great opportunity!
Waiting is hard
After agreeing to lend the device, the waiting is probably the hardest. It felt just like that moment when you ordered your new MacBook Pro on the Apple website and then have to wait for it to be delivered. A shiny new device is coming your way. Luckily, the wait wasn't all that long, because a week later a parcel was delivered. Ooooohhh.
The first time
I unpacked the Surface Book 2 and booted it up. It definitely felt like I was unpacking and booting up a new MacBook in terms of experience. A nice wizard helped me set up the basics of the computer like the user, the wifi etc. The whole setup could also be done using speech with the Cortana software, but as fancy as it may seem, I somehow dislike microphones constantly listening to what I'm doing and saying, I quickly turned that off. All in all the initial setup was done in a couple of steps and a couple of minutes.
Now, to set this up as a development workstation I need some software. The initial list of things I thought I needed was:
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