Living without a laptop, Part II, aka: Why I cried uncle

About this time last spring, I wrote how I was going to start Living without a laptop.  I had just switched jobs and had to turn in a good work laptop, which was replaced by a desktop at my new job. After living and working like this for a year, I have finally caved in and ordered a laptop for work.

z400-2So how did I get here? Well, for the last year my main computing devices have been: an HP desktop (z400) at work, a custom built AMD desktop at home, and an original Surface RT tablet.  Whenever I was away from my desk at work, I could use my Surface to keep notes (OneNote – awesome) and also keep up with my Outlook.  I was able to do this because I had my Surface connected to the secure Wi-Fi network at the office.

I also had the option of using Remote Desktop to connect to my office workstation if I needed to do something that WindowsRT couldn’t do.  A lot of this functionality hinged on me being able to connect to the office network.  This all worked until an update to my SurfaceRT in January killed my ability to do just that.

SurfaceRT/WindowsRT has its limitsSurfaceRT

Our private wireless network at the office requires that I enter my username and password, which it still prompts me for after the update, but it also prompts me for a network key which we don’t have and the Surface didn’t require before.  Since there isn’t a big group of us Surface RT users, I fell into the category of unsupported (on your own) users at work.

There is still a guest network that I can use, which allows my Surface to get out the internet, where I store my OneNote notes.  However, I can’t connect using our remote access options, because I can’t install Java for the VPN nor can I get the Citrix Receiver application to work with our Citrix remote option. Without these remote options, I can’t use Outlook and I can’t use Remote Desktop, making my Surface RT rather limited. (For those wondering, I went so far in my troubleshooting that I completely wiped my Surface and reinstalled everything – hoping that it would work like it did before, but I had no luck with that.)

I also found another scenario where the Surface isn’t a laptop replacement – trying to use the keyboard without a proper desk/table available.  I first ran into this when I attended a conference in 2012.  The conference was set up with rows of chairs, but no tables in front of them.  I had the choice of either using the on screen keyboard to take notes (which isn’t a great experience for more than brief notes) or using the keyboard and trying to balance it on my lap. My typing would often make the Surface move/teeter, and the kick stand didn’t make the viewing angle of the screen good, nor did it feel good as it cut into the tops of legs.

This isn’t the only place where a table wasn’t available.  Turns out I missed being able to use the keyboard while seated on our couch in front of the TV.  Most people will say that tablets are great for being in front of the TV. Tablets are great for consuming things, like catching up on Twitter or Facebook, or reading blogs, but I’m just not that productive doing email or development without my keyboard.

To the cloud – new goal at the office

While all of this was happening with my mobile options, the game was also changing when it came to my need for a powerful desktop. One of the reasons I needed this computing power was so I could run a SharePoint development environment.  This included running not only Visual Studio, but also the SharePoint server software which takes gobs of memory and storage. So how did this requirement change? Two new changes we adopted – moving to Office 365 and using Azure as part of our MSDN subscriptions.

First, we’re moving to SharePoint Online and won’t have SharePoint on premise in a few months.  This changes our development to be focused on more wide stream web technologies which don’t require that you develop on a SharePoint server.

Second, Microsoft introduced Azure credits with an MSDN subscription.  I can now use that to spin up virtual machines in Azure for development environments that require I be running on a server, like some SharePoint projects require (maintaining legacy sandbox solutions).  For those that don’t, I can simply use Visual Studio on

After thinking through all of this, I decided to request an Ultrabook laptop for work.  I got a nice little HP Elitebook Folio 9470m, which is pretty slim/small, making it a good note taking device for meetings, but I can also use it to run Outlook and all of our remote access options work.  I also have a docking station and large monitors on my desk, so when I’m there I’m not limited to the smallish screen of the laptop.

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I’m still using my home desktop when I’m telecommuting, but if I need to catch up on email, I now have the option of doing so from my couch.