Right-to-repair advocates believe that users should have the right to repair their own devices—you know, products that they own. But if you can’t make your own informed decision about who does the repair on your product—be it your tech-savvy neighbor, an independent repair shop, or yourself—because manufactures make it damn near impossible, there’s an argument to be made that you do not actually maintain control over that device for which you paid hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

It’s worth noting here Microsoft’s anti-right-to-repair track record. As one example, in an interview with iFixit earlier this year, Washington State Representative Jeff Morris accused Microsoft of being instrumental in squashing right-to-repair legislation in his state. Microsoft is also a member of the Entertainment Software Association, a trade organization that opposes right-to-repair legislation. Further, last year, the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning to Microsoft (in addition to other major manufacturers) over warranty language seemingly intended to dissuade users from seeking repairs by parties other than Microsoft.

While Microsoft does have a trade-in and recycling program for products, batteries, packaging, it’s still hard to square lauding a company that’s so aggressively pushed back against initiatives that would make it easier for people to repair their stuff on their own terms.


The key to understanding exactly who this repairability benefits may be right there in Panay’s presentation language: commercial customers. If that’s the case, it seems unlikely that the product would directly benefit the everyday consumer. Pretty as that module-like design appeared, it sounds like the company will withhold guides, tools, parts, and other necessary repair components from individual users. Instead, this improved repairability will more likely position Microsoft to better compete with rivals like Lenovo, Dell, and HP in the commercial space.

Still, it’s hard to deny Microsoft of the incredible feat here of maintaining the design of the Surface while at the same time focusing on greater repairability (even if it’s limited by who can do those repairs). It’s certainly an improvement over the first-generation Surface laptop, which iFixit dubbed a “glue-filled monstrosity” and awarded a devastating zero out of 10 on its repairability scale in its 2017 teardown.


Kyle Wiens, editor-in-chief of iFixit, told Gizmodo by phone on Wednesday that there was “no possible way that [Panay] could have done on stage what he did with that laptop with any other Surface product.” The shift away from the Surface’s anti-repair design was also commended by Nathan Proctor, who leads the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Right to Repair campaign—although he noted that was not an especially high bar to clear.

Proctor told Gizmodo by phone that he’s “very pleased with what the little that I know so far,” commending the engineering improvements that will cut down repair times on the previously repair-unfriendly Surface, and ones that have to Microsoft’s benefit likely been in the works for some time. It can take a long time to carefully overhaul the entire design of a premier product, after all. But he noted there’s much to be revealed about the device and its repairability that wasn’t immediately clear in the absence of a teardown.


“It seems obvious that it’s definitely moving in the right direction,” Proctor said. “I think the questions that have to be answered are: How widely distributed will the repair tools and information be? And what are the other issues with the reparability? But I think Microsoft—if they put engineering time into making it more fixable—they deserve credit for that. That’s a good thing to do, and it speaks well of the ability of the right to repair campaign to influence manufacturer behavior.”

Update 10/3/19 3:46pm ET: In an email after publication, Microsoft clarified that the SSD is “not removable by users” and that it’s “only removable by skilled technicians following Microsoft Instructions,” claiming that attempting to remove the SSD yourself could result in injury or damage to the device. This damage will void the warranty, but simply opening up the device won’t.