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Microsoft hints at Surface Pro keyboard that powers Windows 8 computer

Microsoft may have a plan to address the poor battery life of its new Windows 8 Pro -- a keyboard that includes an extra battery, something that could make the device more attractive to mobile workers.

During a public chat on Reddit, a spokesman for the company seemed to hint that engineers recognized the problem and designed in a contingency.

[ IN DEPTH: Microsoft's Surface for Windows 8 Pro

TEST YOURSELF: The Windows 8 quiz

NAVIGATE: 12 essential Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts ]

One participant posted this question: Does Microsoft have any plans for an external battery or for a thicker keyboard cover that has an extra battery?

The answer: "That would require extending the design of the accessory spine to include some way to transfer higher current between the peripheral and the main battery. Which we did ..."

Sure enough, if you look at the edge of Surface Pro where the keyboard attaches via magnetic strips, there are two guide holes that align with two nubs on the keyboard and facilitate docking. But the holes also contain four copper contact points -- which could be, as Microsoft wrote on Reddit, a way to transfer higher current between the peripheral and the main battery.

One of the worst features about Surface Pro is the battery life, which is somewhere between three and five hours, depending on what the machine is doing. That's not really enough for a mobile worker who has no certainty of being able to plug the machine in during the work day.

Microsoft acknowledged this shortcoming during the chat and said that it was the result of an engineering compromise between enough battery power to drive the Intel Core i5 processor and keeping Surface Pro thin.

"While these tradeoffs are challenges as much as they are opportunities, we think given the performance and experience you will be getting, it is an exciting product," says Panos Panay, Microsoft's general manager of Surface.

The possibility of a battery-equipped keyboard could explain why Microsoft two weeks ago introduced the option of buying its other Surface model -- the 64GB Surface RT tablet -- without a keyboard. Until then a keyboard was always bundled in. With the possibility of more keyboard choices, the a la carte tablet makes sense.

Panay claimed that Surface Pro beats out Apple's MacBook Air on at least one metric: minutes of use per battery pound. "If you compare it to say a MacBook Air, you will quickly see that pound for pound in battery size vs battery life, you will find optimizations that puts Surface best in its class." Apple claims up to five hours battery life from its 7-inch MacBook Air and seven hours from its 13-inch model.

Panay also wrote about the relatively small amount of available disk space on the Surface Pro, which Microsoft says is 23GB on the 64GB model and 83GB on the 128GB model. He says the design considerations were providing enough space for installing a full version of Microsoft Office and a backup image of the system in addition to the Windows 8 operating system itself.

He suggests using a microSDXC card, a USB 3 drive or SkyDrive if customers want more storage, and promises that Surface Pro production units have squeezed out another 6GB to 7GB on the hard drive.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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