I wanted a small, portable computer. Like an iPad, but running a real operating system.

A Fedi friend pointed me Microsoft’s Surface range. I bought a used Surface Go off Ebay, and slapped Debian on it.

This is a Surface Go, with the small print saying “Model 1824”. Seller says it’s probably a Surface Go 2, I’m guessing it’s a 1. Anyway, it’s not a speed queen.

But it seems to run Gnome well enough, supports web browsing and text editing just fine - and that’s exactly what I want to use it for.

Installation and setup

The install process was almost painless, just the normal Debian routine. The problem was getting there.

The Surface has a single USB-C port. I don’t have a single USB-C thumb drive, though I do have a gazillion USB-A ones, plus an adapter. As per usual, I downloaded a Debian image, and made a bootable USB stick using Balena Etcher.

That didn’t work, as the Surface simply ignored the thing, and booted into Windows. Knowing from experience that these things happen, I tried again. And again. With different thumb drives. With live images copied on Linux, and on Windows (using Rufus, which is ok, except that it provides an excellent demonstration that the UI/UX of Windows tools hasn’t really kept pace with the free world.)

After about five thumb drives and uncounted attempts, I finally got to a Debian installer.

From then on, things went as they usually do - no different from installing Debian on anything else.

So what’s it like?

Up to now, I can say that I really like the Surface’s form factor. Screen and keyboard are surprisingly good, and this isn’t something I say lightly about hardware bearing the Microsoft logo.

I’ve yet to find out about the battery life. Judging from the reviews of the original Surface, this always pretty much sucked under Windows, and I fully expect it to continue sucking under Linux. But I’ll be happy if I get a few hours.

The camera isn’t working yet. I intend to address this when I have time (tm). I’ll report back.

Speed seems… ok. Firefox and LibreOffice seem to run fine. YouTube videos play.

Interim verdict

All in all, it looks like a great little computer for mailing, blogging and some light coding while on the go. You probably wouldn’t want to use this as your primary machine.

If you want a tablet-like computer with a physical keyboard, running a full operating system rather than Apple’s iOS toy, then this is a good way to go.

The devices can be had pretty cheaply. Mine was 130€ in Germany, including keyboard and postage.