Beneath A Surface – The Inside Story of How Microsoft Built the Billion-Dollar Brand

I am writing a book, my first book actually, and it’s covering a topic that helped launch my writing career many years ago. Microsoft’s Surface hardware is a classic story of a product that faced significant challenges in its early life and grew up to become a bright spot in the PC industry.

In May, I started working on this book and have interviewed around two-dozen people that consist of current and former Microsoft employees to learn about the challenges of building the billion-dollar brand. From a $900 million write-down to $4.6 billion in revenue last fiscal year, the story of Surface is ready to be told.

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The title of the book is Beneath A Surface and you can pre-order it here on Thurrott, or Amazon, or sign-up to be notified when it will be available on LeanPub. There will be a print edition, only available to pre-order today on Thurrott, or a version can be purchased on Amazon once the book is complete (Bezos does not currently let you pre-order physical copies of the book) and of course a digital version as well.

My goal is to have the book completed by Thanksgiving (late November) and it is currently 103 pages of pure text without any images or fancy tricks to make the content appear longer than it actually is. I believe the book will be 120-130 pages when completed, it may be longer, but that’s the rough target at this time.

As with all projects, the timeline could be delayed but in this case, the reason for a delay would be so that I can add more content. I’m confident in the material I have curated and sourced so far, but I suspect that this announcement may churn up a few more stories as well. Further, Microsoft has a hardware event next week that will bring the book full-circle.

For fans of Microsoft, Surface, or those simply curious about how brands are built, you will likely enjoy this book. This has been the largest project I have ever personally undertaken when it comes to writing and I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

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Conversation 62 comments

  • dcdevito

    25 September, 2018 - 1:09 pm

    <p>That's great Brad! I think you should record the audiobook with Paul adding commentary. I'll pay 3x the price! In all seriousness, that's great, I will be picking this up. </p>

    • Brad Sams

      Premium Member
      27 September, 2018 - 10:27 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327654">In reply to dcdevito:</a></em></blockquote><p>This is certainly an interesting idea.</p>

  • DocPaul

    25 September, 2018 - 1:12 pm

    <p>Awesome! But shouldn't the title be, "Beneath <em>the</em> Surface"?</p>

    • pesos

      Premium Member
      25 September, 2018 - 1:45 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327663">In reply to DocPaul:</a></em></blockquote><p>came here to write the same</p>

    • Brad Sams

      Premium Member
      25 September, 2018 - 1:48 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327663">In reply to DocPaul:</a></em></blockquote><p>There are tons of other books with the same name and was available too, which helped. </p>

  • jprestig

    25 September, 2018 - 1:15 pm

    <p>Congrats, Brad! That's awesome.</p>

  • RossNWirth

    Premium Member
    25 September, 2018 - 1:24 pm

    <p>1 – I see what you did there, with that title!</p><p>2 – Your pre-order links should open in new tabs so I don't lose</p><p>3 – Pre-ordered</p><p>4 – Congrats!!</p>

  • lvthunder

    Premium Member
    25 September, 2018 - 1:31 pm

    <p>Congratulations Brad. Now get back to work so I have something to read during Christmas break.</p>

  • Jeff.Bane

    25 September, 2018 - 1:46 pm

    <p>Congrats but youre going to get all bitter like Paul from writing books ?</p>

    • Brad Sams

      Premium Member
      25 September, 2018 - 3:10 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327690">In reply to Jeff.Bane:</a></em></blockquote><p>The struggle is real. </p>

  • ken_loewen

    Premium Member
    25 September, 2018 - 1:49 pm

    <p>Looks like a fun topic. Any thoughts on drawing parallels between Surface and other MS brands – successful and otherwise? </p>

  • rfog

    25 September, 2018 - 2:05 pm

    <p>Is a good thing to know how Surface was developed, but 10 bucks is too expensive for an eBook with 100 pages. There are new books from seasoned writers at same price… </p><p><br></p><p>As samples, Steve Jobs biography from Walter Isaacson is now at 7$ and the last one from Trump (Fire and Fury) is at 8.15$.</p>

    • lvthunder

      Premium Member
      25 September, 2018 - 2:21 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327712">In reply to rfog:</a></em></blockquote><p>You can charge less for books that sell more copies. It probably took Brad just as long to research and write this book as it did for Bernstein to write Fire and Fury and he will sell a 100x of copies. Nitch products are always more expensive.</p>

    • Jeffery Commaroto

      25 September, 2018 - 2:26 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327712">In reply to rfog:</a></em></blockquote><p>I pre-ordered. I don't know that number of pages is any indication of quality. I enjoy Paul and Brad's writing so I imagine the value I will receive at $10 will be worth it.</p><p><br></p><p>I might generally think differently about this than others. I regularly read books that I am convinced could be hundreds of pages shorter. I enjoy getting to the point and end up skimming through many books. Often I find authors tossing in chapters with superfluous or redundant stories/information just to fill pages.</p>

    • rfog

      26 September, 2018 - 4:41 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327712">In reply to rfog:</a></em></blockquote><p>Wow!! 6 underpoints!!!! (this is a bag of MS Fanboys) XDDDDDDDDDDD. I love you, men. </p><p><br></p><p>Ivthunder, Jeffrrey, both you've convinced me. Preordered from Spanish Amazon.</p><p><br></p><p><img src="!ArnzyWtYu8jxsLoFeCnTaZJRMyp_kg"></p&gt;

  • SeattleMike

    Premium Member
    25 September, 2018 - 2:36 pm

    <p>Brad, first of all, Awesome idea! And I'm very much looking forward to reading it. Which of the purchasing options will ensure that you get the most amount of my money in your pocket? I want to read the books but I also want to make sure you get your fullest percentage without Mr. Bezos or anyone else taking a cut out of it!</p><p><br></p><p>Thanks!</p>

    • Brad Sams

      Premium Member
      25 September, 2018 - 3:11 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327726">In reply to SeattleMike:</a></em></blockquote><p>Appreciated, any option is fine; whatever is most convenient for you. </p>

  • dougkinzinger

    25 September, 2018 - 4:00 pm

    <p>Interesting. Sounds like a good read.</p>

  • Darekmeridian

    25 September, 2018 - 5:20 pm

    <p>Whoa Brad! Congrats, and good going. Can't wait to read this.</p><p>Best news all day!</p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

  • IanYates82

    Premium Member
    25 September, 2018 - 5:58 pm

    <p>Neat idea for a book. Good timing too! </p><p><br></p><p>Does the print edition also come with a digital copy? I buy a few manning books and really appreciate the way they do that. </p>

  • digiguy

    Premium Member
    25 September, 2018 - 5:59 pm

    <p>Hi Brad, will the price stay the same as the pre-order or it will change?</p>

    • Brad Sams

      Premium Member
      25 September, 2018 - 11:20 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327779">In reply to digiguy:</a></em></blockquote><p>No intentions of changing it before release but I can’t say a coupon or anything like that won’t be offered down the road. </p>

  • robincapper

    25 September, 2018 - 6:00 pm

    <p>Interested to see it Brad. Attended a presentation at a CAD Software conference from the Surface team which was as much about building the culture and brand, as technology. Was an interesting story, but keen to learn more than an hour presso could cover.</p>

  • elt2jv

    Premium Member
    25 September, 2018 - 6:03 pm

    <p>&lt;— Waiting for the Audiobook with R.C. Bray. J/K Can't wait to read it!</p>

  • ianhead

    25 September, 2018 - 8:20 pm

    <p>I will be buying this book. Go Brad!</p>

  • curtisspendlove

    25 September, 2018 - 9:56 pm

    <p>Grats on the book, Sam. I preordered, can’t avoid a multilayer pun. I just can’t. </p>

  • irfaanwahid

    26 September, 2018 - 2:01 am

    <p>Best of luck Brad. I love the title, it's spot on!</p><p><br></p><p>I will definitely get this one!</p>

  • bbold

    26 September, 2018 - 4:00 am

    <p>Congrats, Brad! As a Surface fan, I can't wait to check it out…</p><p>BB</p>

  • glenn8878

    26 September, 2018 - 4:57 am

    <p>Or how Microsoft turned a $8 Billion Windows phone business into zilch. </p>

    • FalseAgent

      26 September, 2018 - 6:29 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327916">In reply to glenn8878:</a></em></blockquote><p>eh? i'm not sure the phone business was ever $8 billion, it was more like $14 million at its peak</p>

      • glenn8878

        26 September, 2018 - 10:15 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#327947">In reply to FalseAgent:</a></em></blockquote><p>The value of Nokia. </p>

    • Mike Widrick

      26 September, 2018 - 10:43 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327916">In reply to glenn8878:</a></em></blockquote><p>I don't think spending $8 billion is the same as an "$8 billion business".</p>

      • glenn8878

        26 September, 2018 - 11:17 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#328018">In reply to solomonrex:</a></em></blockquote><p>Nokia was worth $8 Billion to Microsoft. A business is worth a few times it’s yearly revenue and profit margin. Obviously, Microsoft couldn’t justify the expense since it was written down, way down to $0. So spending $8 Billion for a $0 Billion business sounds about right. How you value Surface is the same issue. Just because it generates $4.6 Billion in revenue doesn’t mean the business is worth anything really. I’m sure XBox can’t even be spinned off as an independent company. </p>

  • locust infested orchard inc

    26 September, 2018 - 6:34 am

    <p>Yo Brad !! This is awesome – for you to be writing about the development of a product that has become a cherished workhorse for millions, and needless to say, saved hundreds of thousands of people becoming entangled and entrapped by the iFad.</p><p><br></p><p>I sincerely hope you don't get writer's block, but rather thoroughly enjoy divulging the anecdotes of Microsofties, both past and present, who may have had many a day filled with doubt releasing such an innovative product.</p><p><br></p><p>Regarding the title of the book – it's very apt and a clever play with words given the phrase, 'scratch beneath the surface' is to dig deeper and analyse a given thing.</p><p><br></p><p>That said, if you will permit me to say, I personally would have entitled the book 'Beneath <strong style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">the</strong> Surface' rather than <span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">'Beneath </span><strong style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">a</strong><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"> Surface'. However having done a quick search on Amazon, there are at least seven different books with the name I proposed. Therefore my title is ill-advised, as one would prefer a title with a unique name. So it would appear you have given considerable thought in choosing a catchy, rememberable, and unique title.</span></p><p><br></p><p>Concerning your comment about the book not having any images, a book with pure text would resemble a literary fiction. May I be so bold to suggest you include photos of prototypes of the first Surface RT, and possibly hand-drawn sketches of ideas brought about through brainstorming sessions by the designers, if you are privy to such information.</p><p><br></p><p>Photos of Panos Panay using a prototype or possibly a one-off build of the highly desirable "Surface Mini"<strong style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">§</strong> / "Surface Phone-ish"<strong style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">‡</strong> would be instrumental in highlighting the enthusiasm Microsoft has for creating a new device form factor, to challenge the near saturated asymptotic growth of smartphones.</p><p><br></p><p>Inclusion within the book of photos of key people responsible for creating the Surface brand, and notable personnel from the design and engineering teams (with possibly photos of the original Surface team huddled together in anticipation of reminiscing in the future), would allow the reader to connect with those that made the Surface what it is today.</p><p><br></p><p>Also, including graphs of expected revenue and actual sales of the Surface prior to its launch, and comparing and contrasting to actual revenue and sales, would certainly aid in the reader grasping how the Surface exceeded (if that is indeed the case) the expectations of Microsoft, and how the Surface brand has become synonymous with quality and performance.</p><p><br></p><p>Furthermore I guess, this book wouldn't be complete without discussing the development of Windows RT and WoA as early as 2008. Though many may know the development history to some degree, reading about it in it's full would certainly shed light as to Microsoft's direction and ambition towards the final stages of development of the much-discussed Surface Foldable™, and of course the first Surface RT and Surface 2, and what may have become of the Surface Go had Intel not intervened in giving a significant discount for the use of their Pentium Gold 4415Y chips, over the Snapdragon 850 SoC (possibly?).</p><p><br></p><p>The announcement yesterday (Tuesday, 25th September) of the Surface Hub 2X which demoed for the very first time Windows Core OS and CShell, revealed that Windows Core OS is unlikely to be ready in 2019, but rather slated for a 2020 release, by virtue of the announcement of the availabilty of the Surface Hub 2X in 2020. One can only therefore assume this announcement further delays the beset Surface Foldable™ to 2020.</p><p><br></p><p>Finally, I genuinely hope this book becomes a resounding success, an Amazon bestseller – as successful as the product whose fortunes are discussed.</p><p><br></p><p><strong style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">§</strong> <a href="; target="_blank" style="color: rgb(0, 110, 206); background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);"><strong>Panos Panay and his Surface Mini, 26th October 2015 – Click here to read the WIRED article.</strong></a></p><p><br></p><p><strong style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">‡</strong> <a href="; target="_blank" style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255); color: rgb(0, 110, 206);"><strong>Panos Panay Interview discussing "Surface Phone-ish", 13th July 2018 – Click here for the audio interview between Mr Surface and WIRED journalist, Lauren Goode.</strong></a></p><p><br></p>

    • Bill Russell

      26 September, 2018 - 1:52 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327948">In reply to locust infested orchard inc:</a></em></blockquote><p>"people becoming entangled and entrapped by the iFad."</p><p><br></p><p>Can't we just use our iPads in peace rather than always being made to feel like simpletons if we don't want to deal with a full blown computer all the time? Its an entertainment/educational appliance for me and I don't see it as a "computer". I'm sure some fanboys stretch its usage cases to where it doesn't make sense, but the opposite goes for surface users, being overkill for most seeking a casual tablet experience. </p><p><br></p><p>Great, so finally another MS consumer product is break-even or so (after the Xbox). Its still a Windows computer, which sell by the millions anyway. Compared to what MS's is used to, its couch change. I know a couple people (CEO types) with them but price wasn't particularly an object and they were in the market for a new laptop anyway. Another windows licence sold is all it is. </p><p><br></p><p>What would have been an actual success is a new category of from-scratch mobile OS + device altogether as was attempted several times and failed where you buy a new PC AND such a device. People still just want Win32. </p><p><br></p>

      • Walter Parker

        28 September, 2018 - 8:05 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#328096"><em>In reply to Bill_Russell:</em></a><em> People that dismiss the iPad as fad are missing the point of the iPad. My wife moved off a laptop and on to an iPad for her business because it was more effective and efficient than using laptop. The battery life is greater. The wake up time is quick compared to restoring a laptop from hibernation. In my less charitable thoughts the people that complain come across as either elitist or jealous. The problem is not you, it is them. Apple took the tablet market that many companies (including Microsoft and Apple!) had tried to crack before and succeed beyond everyone's expectations. The Surface is an extension of those ideas, gone in a slight different direction.</em></blockquote><p><br></p>

    • Brad Sams

      Premium Member
      27 September, 2018 - 10:31 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327948">In reply to locust infested orchard inc:</a></em></blockquote><p>Appreciate the lengthy response…this book covers a lot of what was happening to make Surface a success and includes Woa and Windows 8 development too at a reasonable level – certainly not a detailed history of windows development by any means.</p><p><br></p><p><br></p><p>And the book will have images that will lengthen the content but wanted to state that it's over 100 pages of pure text so that readers wouldn't be dissapointed if they got a book if it was only 90 pages of text and 30 of images etc. </p>

  • robsanders247

    Premium Member
    26 September, 2018 - 6:35 am

    <p>I was going to pre-order the print edition, but adding $35 for shipping to the Netherlands is a bit steep. So pre-ordered a Kindle edition and will get the print copy once it’s available on Amazon.</p>

  • PeteB

    26 September, 2018 - 7:53 am

    <p>"<span style="color: rgb(49, 50, 51);">from a $900 million write-down to become to the hero of the PC industry"</span></p><p><br></p><p>The hero of the PC industry? Lol, I love you Brad but jesus christ.</p>

    • Brad Sams

      Premium Member
      27 September, 2018 - 10:28 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#327980">In reply to PeteB:</a></em></blockquote><p>When the macbook pro crapped out with the keyboard this summer, which product was it compared against?</p>

  • LocalPCGuy

    26 September, 2018 - 10:20 am

    <p>Brad, I've enjoyed your writing since your days at Neowin. Best success to you!</p>

    • Brad Sams

      Premium Member
      27 September, 2018 - 10:32 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#328014">In reply to LocalPCGuy:</a></em></blockquote><p>thanks!</p>

  • darrellprichard

    26 September, 2018 - 11:23 am

    <p>Pre-ordered the Kindle edition yesterday after watching you and Paul tape First Ring Daily at Ignite. Your story about how MS actually sold *all* manufactured Surface RT devices despite the $900 million write-down hooked me.</p>

    • TrevorL

      Premium Member
      27 September, 2018 - 12:13 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#328039">In reply to DarrellPrichard:</a></em></blockquote><p>(and my Surface RT is STILL RUNNING in the kitchen!)</p>

  • ErichK

    Premium Member
    26 September, 2018 - 11:37 am

    <p>Congratulations on this achievement, Brad.</p>

  • dlc96_darren

    26 September, 2018 - 12:02 pm

    <p>Will there be any reference to the "It's a Big Ass Table" parody? ;-)</p>

  • dallasnorth40

    Premium Member
    26 September, 2018 - 1:27 pm

    <p>Looking forward to getting a copy!! Thanks, Brad! </p><p><br></p>

    • Brad Sams

      Premium Member
      28 September, 2018 - 12:18 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#328084">In reply to dallasnorth40:</a></em></blockquote><p>Thank you!</p>

  • CliffordSF

    26 September, 2018 - 6:56 pm

    <p>Brad, if you're reading this, stop! I want my copy in November! Congratulations…really looking forward to the book. </p>

  • Winner

    26 September, 2018 - 7:10 pm

    <p>Perhaps they spent $10 or $100 billion to build that billion dollar brand?</p><p>That seems about part for some of the acquisitions they've made.</p>

  • mejason83

    Premium Member
    26 September, 2018 - 8:05 pm

    <p>Need the audio book version!</p>

  • Stocklone

    Premium Member
    27 September, 2018 - 11:52 am

    <p>Can't wait to read it on my Kindle. This should be a great story. Everyone laughed at the first Surface. I'm glad Microsoft didn't give up after the first try.</p>

    • Brad Sams

      Premium Member
      28 September, 2018 - 12:18 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#328299">In reply to Stocklone:</a></em></blockquote><p>Agreed.</p>

  • George Coll

    Premium Member
    27 September, 2018 - 7:21 pm

    <p>Congrats Brad. Bought. </p>

    • Brad Sams

      Premium Member
      28 September, 2018 - 12:18 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#328429">In reply to Georgecoll:</a></em></blockquote><p>woot!</p>

  • Clintvs

    Premium Member
    28 September, 2018 - 9:00 pm

    <p>Good to hear Brad. I enjoy you writing and feel you have great talent for it, with a bit of personality to make it enjoyable to read. I look forward to reading your book. Maybe you could get Steve Si to do the Audible Version. If he is busy you can just trick Paul into it by adding passages into the onenote for first ring.</p>

  • jdjan

    Premium Member
    05 October, 2018 - 1:49 pm

    <p>Pre-ordered on Kindle. Looking forward to reading it!</p>

  • IanYates82

    Premium Member
    17 November, 2018 - 6:22 am

    <p>Just went to order the paper version as I still tend to like dead trees. But the shipping internationally to Australia is $35 dollars (US dollars I assume).</p><p><br></p><p>So… eBook it is unfortunately</p><p><br></p><p>Maybe this will be what gets me in to eBooks and never looking back? :)</p>

  • spullum

    Premium Member
    26 November, 2018 - 6:47 pm

    <p>Pre-ordered the e-book. Congrats on your first book Brad! <span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">Can't wait to read it.</span></p>

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