Putting Word 2013 to Work on Microsoft's Surface RT Tablet

CIO.com blogger James A. Martin had a bumpy first few weeks with Word on Microsoft’s new Surface RT tablet, but a recent update to Office 2013 eliminated most of—but not all—the problems.

I spend the bulk of my work hours using Microsoft Word. I’m also particularly fond of tablets. And so, a native mobile version of Word (as opposed to a Word-compatible app) on a lightweight tablet is something I’ve wanted for a long time. 

With its Surface RT tablet, Microsoft nicely filled that void for me—but not without putting me through some harrowing moments.

Microsoft Word 2013 Surface RT tablet

The Surface RT tablet ($499 and up) runs Windows 8 RT, a version of the new Windows 8 OS that is optimized to run on mobile devices with ARM processors. (For more information on the differences between RT and regular Windows 8 versions, read “3 Things You Need to Know About Windows 8, Windows RT and Microsoft-Tablet Apps.”)  

When I purchased my Surface RT on November 7 at a San Francisco Microsoft pop-up store, the tablet came preloaded with a “preview” version of Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student Edition.

Right away, I started using Word on the tablet to write blog posts and articles. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long to realize the preview edition wasn’t ready for prime time. Every 15 minutes or so, Word became completely unresponsive. The only remedy was to shut it down, lose whatever I’d written and hadn’t yet saved, and relaunch the app. I save my work very often, so this wasn’t catastrophic. But it was annoying as hell, enough to make me want to stop using the Surface to write.  

That wasn’t the worst of it, however. 

Towards the end of an article I’d written, the cursor suddenly became possessed, backtracking and wiping out everything in its path. As I watched my work disappear, I scrambled to stop the cursor from its “crush, kill, destroy” trajectory. The only thing to do was to shut Word down, which took some effort. In the end, I lost half of that document due to the crazed cursor and all of my patience with Word on the Surface

I realize Office 2013 isn’t even available yet for desktops and laptops; the version I was using was a “preview”; Surface is Microsoft’s first foray into tablet hardware, and it is a first-generation device. All that said, my early experience using Word on the Surface didn’t reflect well on Microsoft at all.  

Thankfully, things are much improved now. I installed the final version of Office 2013 Home & Student Edition for the Surface RT tablet, and haven’t experienced these problems. (To install the final Office version, choose "Search" from the Windows "charm bar." Type in "Windows Update," and select "Settings" from the search results. You should see "Update for Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 RT Preview," which, once installed, will update you to the final Office version.)

Though the final version of Word 2013 on the Surface can be sluggish at times, such as when I copy and paste a hyperlink from a Web page, I’m finding it to be a pleasure to use. I love having all the Word features I use on my PC—including Track Changes, which is hard to find on Office-compatible iOS and Android apps—available to me on a tablet. Plus, the Surface RT Type Cover is the best tablet keyboard I’ve used to date. The combination of full versions of Office, the Type Cover and the Surface’s sleek, lightweight design makes for a compelling tablet geared for creating content, not just consuming it—as long as you’ve upgraded to the final Office 2013 tablet version. 

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