Posted by: kurtsh | May 30, 2007

NEWS: “Microsoft Surface” launches

We proudly announced the launch of "Microsoft Surface" a table appliance that enables computer interaction not just using a multitouch interface… but more importantly, through the manipulation of physical objects representing virtual objects projected upon a flat surface using only one’s hands and little else.  Based on the placement of small objects like sheets of paper, glass tiles, and other physical objects like cellphones or pencils, a projector/monitor displays the image of computer-generated virtual objects over a a table like surface by recognizing shapes and object identities.


Visit the Surface web site at or read the MSNBC coverage at for more details.
Video: Power of Microsoft Surface

If anyone asks you, Microsoft Surface’s ability to allow any user to work with actual physical objects on a Surface ‘table’, like a cellphone or a CDROM or a sheet of paper and have them interact with the computer is what makes ‘Surface’ different from other like-interfaces.  Windows recognizes the object and displays information about it on screen appropriately.  The technology is based on something we called PlayAnywhere that was developed by Microsoft Research.  With "mutlitouch displays"  being all the rage, it’s important to highlight that this is a completely new & different dimension to working with computers.
Video: Magic of Microsoft Surface

And equally important:  This is affordable technology.  It’s not so expensive that it can’t be monetized and purchased by business that want to use it as a differentiator to their customer base.  Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of Surface-based interfaces available in Hollywood & Las Vegas Ultralounges for example.

Yeah, there’s gonna be a few haters saying that multitouch screens have been demonstrated before, but I think they would be hard pressed to see object recognition as part of the interface.  I think this really will be the first time this will be openly demonstrated and commercially viable.
Video: Possibilities of Microsoft Surface


The bottom line however is that I believe that people like tactile contact.  People want to work with physical objects – not just grab or touch virtual objects on a touch screen ala Minority Report.  It’s not just a human instinct – it’s just plain ergonomics.  If you’ve ever had to type on a QWERTY keyboard without tactile feedback (flat keyboards) you know what I mean. 

The result is that Microsoft Surface is an extremely intuitive, yet tactile interface for working with data in an ergonomic environment that even Grandma can enjoy.  Imagine playing checkers with someone remotely using real checkers on a Surface-enabled table.  The possibilities are endless.


This was announced suddenly and with quite a bit of fanfare.  Historically, we haven’t done this sort of thing.  As a rule, we usually have a lot of open, end user feedback during product development and evolve the creation of new technology based on end user need so nothing is really ever a surprise to our customer base.

But because of our lack of "shock & awe" tactics, even though we have really innovative technologies, we lag behind in the "PR battle.  Well, I think our folks upstairs have gotten a little tired of certain other companies being constantly associated with "innovation" and garnering a lot of free media publicity even when the supposed announcement is "questionably innovative".  So with select technologies, I think they’re choosing to keep our research hush-hush for a little for the opportunity to have a "big reveal/announcement" around the stuff and garner all the PR & attention that it brings.  Take for instance the announcement Silverlight:  That was a massive development technology PR splash with serious, true innovation behind the announcement.

It won’t happen for every product I’m sure but hopefully, as a result of this change in tactics, we’ll see folks paying a bit more attention to some of the other truly innovative thinking that we have in products already on the market that originated from Microsoft Research.  For example:

    It might not be a headline grabber, but the core services in Windows Vista that provide it’s future application support is a fundamental change in desktop software development.  In 1MB of memory, someone can quickly develop an extremely rich application that provides a visually stunning user interface, securely communicates with other services & applications over the web, and delivers event driven automation & decision making.
    And all of this is possible using core services within Windows Vista: 
    – .NET Framework
    – Windows Presentation Foundation
    – Windows Communication Foundation
    – Windows Workflow Foundation
    This didn’t garner as much attention as I think it deserved:  Roundtable’s ability to so panoramic views of boardrooms and conference room tables is truly innovative, giving remote viewers the opportunity to see everyone in a meeting room simultaneously and vice versa.  Additionally, Roundtable automatically focuses another video feed on the currently-speaking individual keeping the sense of "context" one would have by keeping the persons attention on the person speaking at all times as if the remote viewer were actually present.  This provides a fundamentally closer experience between the two locations, instead of the typically separated/segregated  experience most video conferences provide today.
    I can remote control my desktop workstation, and administer my server through my Windows Mobile phone. 
    I can stay current & view RSS feeds & listen to Podcasts  that are automatically downloaded through the cellular connection throughout the day on my Windows Mobile phone. 
    I can watch live TV and view content on either Tivo or a Windows Media Center system remotely over the cellular Internet connection I have on my Windows Mobile phone.
    I can actively bid on eBay auctions and get notified if I win/lose, buy books from Amazon in one click, and I can view traffic information for the highways in Los Angeles.
    …and oh yeah, I can read email as well.  From Exchange, Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, or any POP3 server.

So if you’ve been a Microsoft Technology follower and you’ve been wondering when Microsoft was going to start playing the PR/Media game in keeping certain research elements secret and making "big splashy" announcements that keep people on the end of their seats, I think you can probably anticipate a more things like this in the future.


%d bloggers like this: