Microsoft Surface SP1 adds features, better support

This last Friday, a few of the developers behind Microsoft Surface took some time out of their schedules to meet with us and talk about what’s coming in their Surface Service Pack 1, due to be rolled out today. Now, it’s called a service pack for a reason — as opposed to a fun pack — this update is a response to the requests and concerns of the community using and developing for the Surface, so it’s not about flashy new gizmos and eye candy, but usability.

There are still a few new visible features, and it’s always fun to play with a Surface, so there’s a nice video for you to watch if you’re interested in how the Surface is changing and how Microsoft is responding to developer feedback. It’s easier to show them than explain them at length, so check them out in the video (hope you like my chin, which was all I could fit into the frame while still including the whole Surface surface).

In more prosaic developments, but no less important ones, Surface is now supported by Microsoft Update — and from my talk with them, it seemed like this is just one of many steps they’re taking to really tie in the Surface to other Windows and Microsoft services and APIs. For instance, they’re working hard to make XNA play well with Surface, and it sounds like the Surface team is going to be instrumental in establishing a set of standardized gestures and motion controls for Surface, Windows 7, and Windows Mobile 7. That’s pretty key, and the Surface team has done a huge amount of research into touch and gesture usability, so they’re the right guys for the job. WPF controls and libraries are also being integrated, so more traditional interfaces can be easily adapted to not be immediately broken by being clicked on in 20 different places at once.

Their little 128-bit identifier tags (we saw those in our behind the scenes look) are being rolled out in earnest, so developers will be able to work those into their apps. I was just thinking how awesome it would be to eat on a Surface and just put down a little picture of the drink you want right there on the table — bam, hit “confirm” or whatever and it’s on the way. They’re also optimizing background processes for better notification ability while in other apps and that sort of thing.

I liked the stress test that helps make sure apps won’t just freak out when there are (for example) chimps pounding on the table all over the place. When they ran it for me in the video above, it managed to exit the app, go shopping, and start ordering Dungeon Siege II before they stopped it. Not bad taste for 20 virtual monkeys. I suppose it would have only stopped when they asked for a card number.

All these improvements and more are being demonstrated in more detail at Tech-Ed, pretty much while you’re reading this article, so if you’re a Surface developer (and not at the sessions — come on), you’ll get a lot more details soon. For the rest of you, though, I thought it might be nice for you to know that the Surface wasn’t just a one night stand for Microsoft; it’s growing up into a real product and they’re actually putting a lot of weight behind it. In the meantime, we’ll keep you posted on all Surface and Surface-related news.