The Surface Challenge – Part 1: Introduction

This is a new blog series I’ve been planning to write for a while now. Throughout these several posts, I’ll be going over the details of how I decided to trade in my main development machine for a Microsoft Surface Pro. These blog posts are actually all written using this exact device.

Background Information

On the day I joined my new organization, I was given a Dell Precision M6500 laptop as my main development machine. Even though being very powerful, this device is also extremely heavy. It has 16 Gb of RAM which, in my opinion, is more than enough to do real SharePoint development, and 1Tb of SATA Hard Drive. However, some staff in the organization started to request 32 Gb devices, due to slow performance of their virtual machines hosted on their current laptop. No need to mention that these 32 Gb devices are very expensive. So I went and started thinking about alternative options.

Then came the new SharePoint app model that no longer required developers to install all the SharePoint Server bits on their devices to do development. I remember joking with a friend over a few brews, that this new model would open the door to a whole new development paradigm for SharePoint developers. That SharePoint developers would now be able to do extensive development using low-end devices, pushing and testing their code remotely. But he didn’t buy into that, he had read somewhere that SharePoint 2013 required over 20 Gb of RAM for a developer’s machine. I pushed the envelope and told him that he was totally wrong and that with this, I could now even do development on a tablet, that I’d be willing to stop using my normal development laptop and do strict tablet development for a month. And the Surface Challenge was born!

What Am I Trying to Prove?

The main goal of this self-imposed challenge, is to prove that one doesn’t need to have a high-end machine to do development anymore. I’m not trying to prove that the surface is the device everybody should be using to do SharePoint development from now on. I’m simply trying to prove that if you can do development on a low-end device such as a tablet, then any other low-end machine should be more than enough. However, this blog series will be focusing on using the Microsoft Surface Pro machine.


Before being able to start doing your SharePoint 2013 app development, you first need a developer’s site somewhere to push and test out your code. In my case, I had two options, the first one was to ask our Administrators team to create a new Developer Site on the intranet server for each developer. This tends to be the preferred option, as the code stays inside the boundaries of your organization. My second option, was to use Office 365. As an MSDN Premium subscriber, I am given one year free of Office 365 subscription. I like to live dangerously, so I decided to go with option #2. Please note that using this option also allows me to create “Auto-Hosted” apps for my own training purposes. Our organization doesn’t have any formal plans to move over to Office 365, so we will most likely never be using Auto-Hosted apps in Azure.

The Surface Pro

The device I was given to do my challenge, was a Microsoft Surface Pro 64 Gb. The machine’s specs are:

Data Point Value
Hard Drive 64 Gb Solid State Drive
RAM 4 Ghz
CPU Intel i5 Processor 1.7Ghz Dual Core
OS Windows 8 Pro x64



On the software side now, the first thing my surface pro will need, is everyone’s favorite IDE, Visual Studio 2012. In order for one to do SharePoint 2013 app development in visual studio, they will need several Updates/Add-ons installed first. Here’s a list of the updates I had to install:

  • Visual Studio 2012 Update 1
  • Visual Studio 2012 Office Developers Tools
  • Visual Studio 2012 Update 2

Something important to note, is that I could also have decided to use Napa as my development IDE to remove the Visual Studio dependency all together. I need to be connected at all times anyway, and all I will ever do are SharePoint-Hosted apps. Napa for those who don’t know, is Visual Studio in the cloud for Office 365. It is a Provider-Hosted app that you install on your Office 365 site. It allows you to create and publish SharePoint and Office apps straight from the browser. No need to have Visual Studio installed on your machine at all. Possibly, one could register for an Office 365 30 day free trial, and create an app using Napa. Note however, that you need a valid Office 365 account in order for you to market and sell your app in the Office Store. I said I like to live dangerously, but I didn’t say I loved to suffer, so no Napa for me. If I really wanted to give myself a lot of self-inflicted pain, I would have used Napa on an iPad J



The next article in this series will talk about what my work setup/process looks like while developing SharePoint 2013 apps on the Microsoft Surface.

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