Windows Mode and Surface Mode

Microsoft Surface can run in one of two modes: Windows mode or Surface mode. The modes determine what appears on the device's display and whether the Microsoft Windows user interface will be suppressed or available. You can easily switch between these two modes.

This topic includes the following sections:

Windows Mode Compared with Surface Mode

The following table describes the differences between Windows mode and Surface mode. Profiles determine what specific changes that Surface Shell makes when you log on in one of these modes. For more information, see Account Profiles.


Mode Description

Windows mode

Windows mode gives you access to the Windows 7 user interface and functionality, and to Surface functionality through desktop shortcuts. Devices are configured to start in Windows mode after initial setup, and show the Windows 7 user interface and the logon screen. You can run and test a Surface application by using the Surface Shell desktop shortcut. Surface Shell starts the Attract application and Launcher on the device's display, while the Windows desktop runs in the background or on an external monitor, if you have set one up.

You can also use Windows mode to directly or remotely administer the device and Windows 7 functionality.

When you log on to a device for the first time, you enter Windows mode.

Surface mode

Surface mode displays the Surface user interface and is designed for devices made for Surface used in venues. In Surface mode, the Windows 7 user interface is suppressed, including all User Account Control prompts, all Windows Firewall prompts, access to Windows Task Manager, and automatic updates. In Surface mode, users see the Surface user interface that you configure, including the following:

  • The Attract application.

  • Launcher.

  • Registered Surface applications.

Developers should use Windows mode for general testing and troubleshooting during application development, and then switch to Surface mode as a final step. To debug issues in Surface mode, turn on troubleshooting by taking the steps in the To enable troubleshooting in Surface mode procedure.

When the device enters Surface mode, it logs on to Windows 7 by using an account that uses a specific Surface profile. By default, this account is the SurfaceDefaultUser account. SurfaceDefaultUser is a standard user account that minimizes the ability of users to make any changes to the Surface software. If you want the Surface mode session to run under a different user account, you can create that account through Windows 7 and use the SurfUser tool to tell the device to use that account while in Surface mode.

For more information about the SurfaceDefaultUser account, see Mode Accounts.

Do not delete the SurfaceDefaultUser account or change the account user name, even if you do not use the SurfaceDefaultUser account as a Surface mode account.

To switch from Surface mode to Windows mode by using the on-screen display

  1. Press the device's power button once to display an on-screen menu. For information about where the power button is located on your device, see your hardware manufacturer's documentation.

  2. Tap Exit Surface Mode.

  3. Type the administrator password in the password prompt dialog box by using the on-screen keyboard, and tap Exit Surface Mode. The device returns to the Windows 7 desktop.

To switch from Surface mode to Windows mode by using a keyboard and mouse

  1. Connect a keyboard and mouse to the I/O connections on the device.

  2. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del, and then click Log off.

  3. Log on by using an administrator account. For more information about administrator accounts, see Mode Accounts.

    You can also switch from Windows mode to Surface mode by using the ModeSwitcher command-line tool. For more information about how to use this tool in a script, see ModeSwitcher Tool.

To enable troubleshooting in Surface mode

  1. Connect a keyboard and mouse to the I/O connections on the device.

  2. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del, and then click Log off.

  3. Log on by using an administrator account. The Windows desktop appears.

  4. Double-click the Enter Surface Mode shortcut.

  5. In the Do you want to log off and enter Surface mode? dialog box, select the Enable troubleshooting and debugging in Surface mode. check box.

  6. Click Yes.

    The Entering Surface Mode progress dialog box appears while Surface Shell updates the SurfaceDebug profile registry subkey settings and Group Policy settings.

The Desktop in Windows Mode

When you log on to a device as an administrator, it displays a customized Windows desktop.

Desktop when hardware is in Windows mode

The Windows desktop contains the following Microsoft Surface-specific shortcuts:


Shortcut Description
Enter Surface Mode icon

Enter Surface Mode automatically logs you off as administrator and logs on to Surface by using the current Surface mode account, shifting the device into Surface mode (in which users can interact with the Attract application and Launcher).

Surface Shell shortcut icon

Surface Shell replicates Surface mode without leaving Windows mode so that you can test and debug applications with Launcher. Use Surface Shell to test that an application works correctly with Surface Shell. That is, check that the application displays in and can be started from Launcher and that your application works properly with the Surface software and user interface. When Surface Shell is running, a Surface Shell window appears in the taskbar. To close Surface Shell, right-click the window, and then click Close window.

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