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Why hundreds of techies stood in line for hours to buy a Surface Pro

Long lines to buy Surface devices

Long lines to buy Surface devices

I did it. I agonized and waffled about it for days but finally caved in. I just had to experience why anyone on earth would stand in line for the Surface RT and Surface Pro fire sale. They’re first generation products and my rule of thumb has always been: Don’t buy a first generation device!

But I couldn’t pass up Microsoft’s deal for Tech Ed attendees this week: $99 for a 64 GB Surface RT device (normally $699) and $399 for a 128 GB Surface Pro (normally $999). I spent $542.21 including tax instead of $1700 (before tax). At that price, Microsoft only allowed attendees to buy one of each – no more, no less.

As we say in Boston — it’s a BAH-gain.

I had to badger and plead with my senior executive editor Ed Scannell to stand in line with me. Ed probably thought I was crazy because he’s been covering the tech industry forever and knows better.

Once the conference started, dedicated attendees stood in line, some waiting for as long as three hours to get their device(s). Although that’s just a blink of an eye compared to Apple fanatics who camp out at the Apple store for new versions of the iPhone and iPad, this wait was substantial for a Microsoft device. However, Tech Ed attendees don’t represent the general population.

Just before I had to leave from Tech Ed and catch a plane to return home on Wednesday, the wait was down to an hour. Not too bad.

While we waited, Ed figured out that theoretically if all 10,000 attendees at the show bought an RT and Surface Pro, it would bring Microsoft nearly $1 million in revenue for RT and $4 million for Surface Pro. That’s $5 million in additional revenue for Surface units. Not a bad boost for Surface sales for Microsoft’s fourth fiscal quarter.

Of course not every attendee bought the devices: some only the RT, some only the Pro, some both and some none. But even if Microsoft conservatively added another $2.5 million to its coffers and upped their shipment numbers this quarter, every little bit helps.

Time in line flew by because of the entertainment, and I’m not referring to the flying beach balls. Steven “Wheelin’ and Dealin'” Borg, co-founder and strategist of Northwest Cadence, a small 16 person company in Bellevue, Wash. provided his own fun for those around him.

Mr. Wheelin’ and Dealin’ asked the folks in line to see if they were going to buy their allotted one Surface Pro. If not, he was going to pay them $500 cash to get one and give it to him. Yes, $500.

Steve ended up with three takers, although one guy backed out. Mr. Wheelin’ and Dealin’ did such a good job of getting others excited about the Surface Pro this guy changed his mind and decided to keep the unit. (Maybe Steve should work for Microsoft’s Surface team).

Sure, some simply bought the devices to resell for a quick profit on eBay. But many folks were either buying the RT as a consumer unit for their family, or they were buying the Surface Pro for their company to see if they could actually use it for business purposes. Some buyers said they would use the device for testing to see if it would fit in their environment and then perhaps roll the device out to others in their organization.

You may ask: did I sell mine? Nope. I had to buy a unit for my nephew and didn’t want to suffer the wrath of my brother and nephew if I sold it off.

The big question is, will I replace my trusty Apple iPad 2 with my new lovely red Logitech ultrathin keyboard? Not yet. My iPad serves me well and lets me file my work on the road. I just wish Microsoft would get Office for iOS into Apple’s App Store. You know they have it; they’re just not letting it out. If they did, Microsoft would lose their major competitive edge for Surface, something they can’t afford at this point.

Surface RT has the Office suite and, with the forthcoming Windows 8.1, Outlook will be available for Windows RT. We’ll have to wait and see whether putting Outlook on Windows RT makes any difference in the enterprise.

So all’s well that ends well: my kids get to play with yet another digital device (though I’ll have to argue with them to turn it off because it’s time for bed) and my nephew will be happy when he gets his Surface Pro.

And it only took us 55 minutes to get through the line.

Senior executive editor Ed Scannell (who is probably cursing me for making him spend $100 bucks for an RT) contributed to this post.

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