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Microsoft's surface computer


Beerman

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MSNBC news article

 

n the next year, Bill Gates will manage one of the highest-profile transitions in American business history — he’ll leave his day job as Chief Software Engineer at Microsoft, the $300 billion company he co-founded 32 years ago, and will move full time into philanthropy.

 

But before he leaves, Gates has a few more high-tech projects to finish. Until this morning, one project — almost five years in the making and code-named 'Milan,’ — was top-secret.

 

In a TODAY exclusive, I had a chance to talk with Gates at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington campus about a revolutionary new device Microsoft now calls “Surface.” (MSNBC.com is a Microsoft-NBC Universal joint venture.)

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“Pretty exciting, eh?” Gates said with a sly smile, when he put his hand down on what looked initially like a low, black coffee table: At the touch of his hand, the hard, plastic tabletop suddenly dissolved into what looked like tiny ripples of water. The ‘water’ responded to each of his fingers and the ripples rushed quickly away in every direction.

 

“Go ahead,” he said. “Try it.” When I placed my hand on the table at the same time, there were more ripples.

 

It took a moment to appreciate what was happening. Every hand motion Gates or I did was met with an immediate response from the table. There was no keyboard. There was no mouse. Just our gestures.

 

“All you have to do is reach out and touch the Surface,” Gates told me with barely concealed pride. “And it responds to what you do.”

 

In an industry whose bold pronouncements about the future has taught me the benefits of skepticism, Surface literally took my breath away. If the Surface project rollout goes as planned in November, it could alter the way everyday Americans control the technology that currently overwhelms many of us.

 

After Gates and I spent about 20 minutes taking the device out for a spin, a lot of my preconceived notions about how people interact with computers began to melt away.

TODAY

Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates talks with TODAY tech editor Paul Hochman while demonstrating his company's new computing device, Surface.

How it works

The radical new approach starts with the guts of the device itself. Under the impact-resistant plastic top skin on an otherwise nondescript table hide five infrared scanners, a projector, and a wireless modem. The scanners recognize objects and shapes placed on the top and respond to them accordingly. For example, if the scanners recognize fingers, and the fingers have been placed in color circles that appear on the surface, the projector shows colored lines that follow the tracings and movements of your fingers. Meanwhile, an internal modem sends and receives signals from any electronic device placed on it. All of the hardware is run by a special version of Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows Vista.

 

To do things on Surface’s tabletop screen, you reach down, touch it and push it. To make the image you see on the screen bigger, spread your fingers. To make it smaller, squeeze your fingers together. To move something into the trash, push it into the trash with your hand. And it allows what Microsoft calls “Multi-Touch” and “Multi-User” interaction — namely, more than one person can interact with it at a time. Try that with your home computer.

 

One of the most revolutionary aspects of Surface, though, is its natural interaction with everyday objects and technologies. When you place your wi-fi enabled digital camera on the table, for example, Surface ‘sees’ the camera and does something extraordinary: It pulls your digital pictures and videos out onto the table for you to look at, move, edit or send. Images literally spill out in a pool of color.

 

The whole thing is remarkably intuitive, says Gates, because it’s remarkably similar to what people do in everyday life. “When you make it so that it's just visual — touch and visual — you're drawing on what humans are incredibly good at,” he said. “You know, what people have been practicing their entire lives. People will start to see that this world of information and entertainment is going to be far more accessible.

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Not too impressed. When the computer can clean up beer spills or the table top can 'dust' itself, THAT would be impressive. This just sound more like the next step in touch screen technology. Sounds like something that only the very wealthy could afford. Perhaps in another 20 years.

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With all the processing power that must go into watching and reacting to the screen, can there be anything left for running applications? Once again, the Operating System becomes the application.

 

I wonder if it knows which finger you may be pointing at the surface?

 

And what does it do when you put a book or a beer on it? Does it come up with, "Please remove old technology" or, "Don't compute drunk"?

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The video shows how you can place an order at a restaurant. I laughed at that one. Ever go to K-Mart and use the self service registers? 90% of the time, the person can't complete the transaction without help from the clerk. If the clerk has to be there, it's no longer self service.

Yes, it may take a generation for this to work but I'm sure Bill is intent on seeing it through.

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The bit that I noticed was "Chief Software Engineer" - as far as I've heard, the actual programmers and engineers at MS try to keep Bill's fingers OUT of any coding - he's that far behind the times :lol:

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Well, it impressed me. I thought the way you could take a bunch of pictures with your digital camera and then just lay it down on the "Surface" and it would show all the pictures that you took on the "Surface". Another thing that I'm sure Paul would be interested in is being able to just pick up a menu and touch the kind of beer he wanted to order and then touch another part of the screen and it would be paid for.

 

Hey Paul, just be carefull how many times you touch the "Surface" :P:D Now if I just had one of those "Surface" gadgets in my computer room and had a menu with all my beers on it, and then when I touched the beer I wanted, my wife would come running to deliver it to me. Of course the bad thing I don't want to think of is how much it would cost me when I touched the "Surface" to pay for it :o:lol::P:D

 

Frank...

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Well, it impressed me. I thought the way you could take a bunch of pictures with your digital camera and then just lay it down on the "Surface" and it would show all the pictures that you took on the "Surface". Another thing that I'm sure Paul would be interested in is being able to just pick up a menu and touch the kind of beer he wanted to order and then touch another part of the screen and it would be paid for.

 

Hey Paul, just be carefull how many times you touch the "Surface" :P:D Now if I just had one of those "Surface" gadgets in my computer room and had a menu with all my beers on it, and then when I touched the beer I wanted, my wife would come running to deliver it to me. Of course the bad thing I don't want to think of is how much it would cost me when I touched the "Surface" to pay for it :o:lol::P:D

 

Frank...

'You touch, you buy"! :P

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