Photo Courtesy of Simon Floyd/Microsoft
The computer giant is hoping to ramp up sales of its Surface Pro for Windows 8 by enticing engineers with its ability to work with many types of CAD filestwo simultaneouslyand the versatile, sleek design of the device. Microsoft is also promoting its 3D Viewer for JT app.
Photo Courtesy of Simon Floyd/Microsoft

Microsoft is wooing the construction industry with its new Surface Windows 8 Pro, a touch-screen tablet that can act as a desktop workstation for an engineer in the field or in transit. The high-resolution, lightweight device offers engineers the ability to work with computer-aided design projects or view building information modeling files while enabling other applications on the machine.

The device, which comes with 64 or 128 gigabytes of memory, has garnered positive reviews for versatility and hardware and negative ones for storage issues and battery life. Simon Floyd, Microsoft's director of innovation and PLM solution strategy, says it has not received much attention from engineering publications. Floyd gave Surface Pro demonstrations at the "Congress on the Future of Engineering Software" in Scottsdale, Ariz., on April 11-14.

"You can run two very high-resolution monitors at the same time without compromising viewing capacity," he says. A stylus pen allows engineers to jot notes or sketches that can be emailed. The device comes with a magnetic keyboard that is detachable and can stand on its own. Users can "splice" the online keyboard in order to use their thumbs to type, as with the iPad, a mini-desktop or even some mobile phones.

Retailing for $899, the device has received some criticism of its battery life: Floyd says it averages four to five hours, but that has not been the experience of some users. "It has a terrible battery," says Jason Burns, vice president of technology with Hunter Roberts Construction Group. However, he adds, "It isn't bad considering it's Microsoft's first shot at making hardware." He praises the keyboard but has yet to be won over by the Windows 8 release; he still prefers the iPad for working in the field.

Floyd emphasizes the combination of Surface Pro and 3D Viewer for JT, a new app created by Nimble Development Inc. The touch-friendly app allows users to zoom in on 3D models, viewing components from every angle and layer of infrastructure. Demonstrating the app with a virtual image of a game controller, he notes, "You can plumb its virtual depths." The list of components is displayed in a more visually friendly, manageable manner than the standard "tree" trail.

Companies in the aerospace, industrial and automotive industries are using 3D Viewer for JT to share files in its trademarked JT Open Community, which is "dedicated to the adoption and use of a single, open and preferred 3D visualization platform," according to Microsoft's official overview.

As for the Surface Pro, "it is not a replacement for an iPad, but it is a huge replacement option to a traditional laptop or desktop computer," says Shawn Pressley, chief information officer with Hill International Inc.

"Some of our users are willing to move to the Window 8 platform due to the machine's size, weight and speed," he adds.