A New Theory About Surface and USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 (Premium)

I've been calling on Microsoft to add USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 to its Surface PCs for years. And in doing so, I envisioned a transition---that never seems to happen---in which it will slowly move each model, one by one, from the proprietary Surface Connector to this industry standard.

Now, however, I believe that there is a happy middle ground between my desire for Microsoft to do what I think is the right thing and Microsoft's often-stated reasons for sticking with Surface Connector. In fact, it seems rather obvious in retrospect.

For those unfamiliar with the issue, Microsoft has long used a proprietary port called Surface Connect on its Surface PC for both power and expansion, in the latter case via Surface Dock. The port may be proprietary, but Surface Connect is basically just a good ol' USB 3 connection. So it has all of the features of USB 3. And all of the limitations.

For most uses, USB 3 is fine for expansion: You can drive a single 4K external display at an eyeball-friendly 60 Hz, drive external peripherals like a keyboard, mouse, and hard drive, and connect to Ethernet networking, all at the same time. If you want to drive two external displays, however, you're limited to 2160p at 60 Hz.

When Microsoft first created Surface Connect, most PCs came with proprietary power connections of their own and utilized USB (or perhaps other more proprietary connections) for expansion. So the nicety here is that you get both multiple use cases from a single port. And if you do wish to dock your Surface PC, you can do via a single cable, which is really convenient.

That said, the industry has since embraced two related technologies, in turn: USB-C, which is USB 3 with a smaller and more convenient port type, and Thunderbolt 3, which can be driven via a USB-C port instead of using a proprietary port, like Mini DisplayPort, as was the case previously. (Historically, most Surface PCs have provided Thunderbolt 3 video capabilities via Mini DisplayPort, as does the Surface Dock.)

As a result, I've been calling on Microsoft to adopt USB-C since at least 2015. And I've been calling on Microsoft to adopt USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 since at least 2016. It's the way the rest of the industry has gone, and I'm confused why Microsoft, which makes the software that drives the PC platform, has not followed suit with its own PCs.

Publicly, Microsoft has taken an interesting stance on the topic.

For starters, it has argued, as it did in 2017 to The Verge, that USB-C had too many problems for it to use the technology on its own PCs, despite the fact that the rest of the PC industry had previously figured out how to ensure that flaky USB-C power supplies wouldn't destroy their hardware.

I reacted poorly to this decision, noting that fear is not a virtue in product design. "This is the opposite of leadership," I wrote in May 2017 in the wake of the Surface Laptop announcement. (That device lacks both USB-C and Thunderbolt 3.0.) "They’re not ...

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