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back to article Microsoft waves in Minority Report-style computing era

Microsoft launched Surface Computing last night, and with a new computing paradigm - the table-top. Surface Computing allows users to interact by waving their hands around. The technology, which Redmond has been working on for last five years, has been top secret until now. The basic premise is a PC built into a coffee table …

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Autorun

I wonder if it will be able to read a CDROM placed on the surface. If so, I bet they'll have it autorunning the virus contained therein.

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Typical...

The videos of this cool new technology were doing the rounds on the web last year. I think they're still on youtube - a demonstration at a University (I think) of amazing 'multi touch' screens.

At the time it was really exciting, and made me want to see what new possibilities could be opened up.

I can only assume Microsoft have bought the technology, which means when we eventually get it, it will be buggy, broken and only compatible with Vista.

That's such a shame, it could have been awesome.

/Cynic Blog.

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WIMPs...

....while some of the concepts do seem promising (the ones that were already appearant in the movie/story (haven't read the latter -yet-), that is), the utilization factor is primary to none when combined with non-WIMP interfaces...

...which makes it's usefullness rather limited.

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Anonymous Coward

My back is aching already

Having played for hours in pubs on Galaxian table top edition, I can only guess that those people at Microsoft have no back bone. This is an ergonomic disaster.

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Anonymous Coward

Glasses and coffee cups

How long is this "surface computing" idea going to last in real life? Have you looked at the state of the average glass table in a hotel lobby, and what happens when someone puts a coffee cup down on it, or spills their drink onto/into it?

Now if it can work out that my beer glass is almost empty, and workout which beer I'm drinking and order another for me then I'd be all for it!

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Dragons Den

During the last series of the BBC's Dragons Den, someone came on with something along the lines of having a media canter built into a coffee table. The idea was ripped to shreds by the Dragons. Mostly it was the ergonomics, but i think the prices he mentioned were simlar, and they said it was too much.

I personally think that this would be a nice INPUT device, kinda like an advanced graphics tablet, hooked up to a PC.

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Anonymous Coward

Welcome to 2006, Microsoft!

Jefferson Han demonstrating this technology in February 2006:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/65

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Not that new...

Matt Houston http://www.tv.com/matt-houston/show/979/summary.html had a computer built into a coffee table back in 1982!

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Nice idea, seen it before...

It's a clever idea, but not the best implementation of the concept - there are some great examples on the net of a project called "reactable", which was a modular sound synthesizer with a very similar interface.

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The two ideas presented by microsoft

come from two university research programs. The multitouch interface was already mentioned by a comment, the other one is the 'items as keys' technology, where a japanese professor demonstrated it by placing his mobile phone on a table as a key while it was scanned by a camera. Actually this could be built very cheaply, but instead of infrared cameras, one should use optical cams. 3d triangulation is easy whith more than 3 fixed position cameras. The other factor is the price of the display.

However i think a better design would be a touch sensitive lcd, set up as a drawing board. (but we already have that) This tabletop layout is good for meetings, because fotos and documents can be laid out and shared between the viewers. In this case the fact that people could watch the content together gives it a plus. (the classic scenario of looking at family fotos with the owner marking things with his/her index finger and talking about the picture)

ps: For someone who asked if the system could detect empty beer glasses and order new ones. Yes it could do that, but it needs a barcode on tehe bottom of the glass.

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Is it just me?

Or would it be really annoying to have all of your pictures presented to you in a jumbled mess you have to sort out?

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Ouija goes digital

Wow, an electric Ouija board - and probably just as reliable!

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anti-trust?

Will Microsoft actually produce or manufacture it? I thought the anti-trust legal eagles were willing to leave them alone as long as they didn't manufacture major hardware components.

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RE: Glasses and coffee cups

With this 3D technology, the problems you mention cannot be avoided. However, with efficient 2D touch screen lay-outs, it is very easy to reserve some space for those purposes.Thath's exactly one of the many reasons why I opt for the latter...

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A Good Thing

While glancing at the site I noticed 2 young ladies exchanging songs for their Zunes. I can only assume in this "Brave New World" that DRM has finally died out.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm a big Apple fan...

...and I think this looks fantastic.

Imaging Aperture's light table running on this, or OS/X with Expose etc.

good for thse of use who like multiple documents open at once.

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HA! Old!

Designing PDA's 12 years ago, I remember having the usual "wouldn't it be great if.." conversation about table-sized LCDs as a work area. The neatest idea, of course is the "tidy desk" shortcut :-)

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Notice something about all the examples?

Notice something about all the examples? It's only used in the dark, which is nice considering that on average it's dark only 50% of the time!

For use in a retail / food environment, it had better have the appropriate IP ratings (ie. almost indestructable and pretty much impossible to scratch).

For home use, it had better be able to resist the intentions of the smaller folk - you know, those that for years have managed to fit impossibly large objects (or gravity defying foodstuffs) inside VHS players.

Apart from this, you can bet you arse on the fact that it's another example of MS lockin - work the way MS work and use MS products and it'll work (sort of). Try not working the MS way or, perish the thought, use a non-MS product somewhere and it'll just fail.

Nicely presented idea though. Can't see it particularly taking off like it is, and multiple point touchscreen interfaces aren't an especially new technology.

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Whack!

I know when I'm upset, I give the keyboard a good whack! Not sure I'd fancy doing that on this surface...

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Anonymous Coward

I knew it...

They want everyone bent over a coffee table!

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"In every pub"?

... and instead of "a computer in every home", a surface table in every pub/hotel?

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Dan

A right bunch of optimists

You lot are really depressing! Sure, MS aren't exactly kings of the UI, and maybe it would work better if it was made by apple, but this is still VERY cool stuff. Oh, and the amount of time they have been working on this suggests they didn't just nick it off someone else in the last 18 months. I look forward to the time that these are integrated into my coffee table for a reasonable amount. Finally, computers may actually move from being a predominantly keyboard/mouse affair to something that seamlessly fits into the real world.

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Son of tablet?

So, tablet PCs didn't really make it as a PC replacement, so BillG's answer is make the tablet bigger...?

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Anonymous Coward

about time

This doesn't make sense to anyone who loves a mouse and a keyboard.

....but it would make perfect sense to any non-IT literate person. I want to check email - press the email picture.... I want to read that email, press on it then...I want to move it out the way, drag the email over there literally..

How can that be an ergonomic disaster? It's taken far too long IMHO, didn't that have it in TNG back in the 90's? :)

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Stu

Cant mention this without Jeff Hann's work

I believe the New York University multi touch implementation by Jeff Hann is COMPLETELY different and separate from Microsofts Surface technology, so much so that MS make no mention of anybody elses input into the field, claiming all the credit for multi-touch input, big surprise there.

Every nay-sayer of this taking off need to quickly look at that video link above, copied here -

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/65

This one uses better technology than MS, typical that MS would get a bog standard IR camera on the job instead of original thinking such as Frustrated Internal Reflection technology use by Jeff Hann.

Especially good for mapping apps, drawing, modelling (2D and 3D), you can also provide textual input with a keyboard, which is fully resizable, rotatable, and in future could also be completely reconfigured, also into a non QWERTY layout - lets not forget the reasons behind the QWERTY layout, in that 'ye olde' typewriter manufacturers wanted to slow typing down because the letter print arms would spring out simultaneously and collide!

I'm all for abandoning the mouse and keyboard if this is to replace it.

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As seen on Tomorrows World in the 80's or 90's

I remember seeing 10 or 20 years ago, a white table with a video projector and video camera(s) above, the projector shone down the computer screen including a keyboard to type on and the camera tracked the ends of your fingers to allow you to point.

The smart/clever bit is the barcode on objects and reader, much easier than trying on recognize what the object is - the barcode just tells the computer.

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IR... Coffee table...

The major application is obvious! The IR sensor monitors the temperature of the coffee and keeps it piping hot. Brilliant!!

I can't wait until one of these replaces the dashboard in cars, think of the product liability lawsuits and associated courtroom entertainment coming from things like; "Well, I was burned when the 'too hot' coffee zoomed all over my lap while I was just trying to rotate the speedometer needle to... No your honor, I guess my left hand doesn't know what my right hand is doing."

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So it's...

...1980s table top space invaders meets Theremin.

I can see those pint glasses going flying already...

Now if they could only finish those holographic projector thingies so the aero desktop will appear above the pile of papers, coffee mats and remote controls, they might actually be on to a winner.

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I liked it

I liked several aspects of the design; big screen, interacting with fingertips, recognizing ofjects, and the flip-over-the-icon-to-get-the-menu thing. Think of a tablet app hooked to a big whiteboard.

Now, the ergonomics of a tabletop are awful, and they're worse with the example since you can't put your legs under it so you're leaning forward at full extension. That has to get fixed. It'll never be good for intense use (neither will the Minority Report interface). Can you imagine waving your arms around for a full eight hour day. You'd have muscles like Popeye the Sailor. Might be better if it could be tipped up like a drafting table, or pushed all the way vertical like a whiteboard. Such a stand will be an interesting industrial design project.

Microsoft is pushing retail kiosk design in its demos. Expect it to be grimy and expensive when you see it in high-cost low-value restaurants in airports and hotels.

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Come one, give them some credit!

This has indeed been seen before, but if they make it out with a $5-10k product by the end of the year they'll have beaten everyone to market with an actual product.

The guy presenting at TED does already productise this for military and corporate functions but I dont even want to know what the price tag is for his products, it may well be into the millions. So maybe he does use "better" technology, but it costs more too...

The only downside to Microsofts solution I can see is the "barcode" - if this doesnt become some sort of industry standard the interaction with other products kind of goes out the window... And thats one of the USPs...

But lets give Microsoft some credit for innovating a little (for once) and creating a useful product!

(and off the back of Silverlight's sexiness I have to wonder what they've put in the water over there in Redmond?)

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Anonymous Coward

Another stolen Ms 'innovation'

Using technology invented by Sun Microsystems - Looking Glass ( the original 3D desktop ) and GoMonkey

http://www.gomonkey.at/

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Anonymous Coward

Encom

Forgive me, but didn't the senior exec of Encom, Mr Dillinger, have one of these, for access to his Master Control Program, way back in 1982?

(Tron)

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If Johnny Foreigner doesn't understand you wave your arms about

And shout louder in English. Any amount of dumbing down to avoid having to learn a few new verbs, nouns, adverbs and punctuation.

How about the idea of command lines instead so that we can use efficient linguistic means of user interface communication. Or would that require too much intelligence ?

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Give credit where it's due

Come on people! If Steve Jobs had announced this product the Mac Legions would be declaring it the Second Coming. But since it comes from "Micro$haft" people can only throw stones at it.

How is it that Apple can do no wrong, Microsoft can only do wrong, and the bugginess of other companies software (am I the only one who's noticed how flaky Adobe software is?) goes entirely unremarked?

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Demoed a year ago?

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/65

thought I'd seen it somewhere before a link posted on my gaming community forums last Aug revealed all

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Re: Give credit where it's due

No, believe me, there's nothing special or interesting about the iPhone... except for the marketing hype and ready legion of drooling fools who will buy one no matter the cost and no matter how bad it is.

Note - I'm not saying that the iPhone won't be nice to use (if you're looking straight at it, have the correct size fingers and as long as the battery lasts), but just being realistic about it's likely impact on the market compared to the impact that some are claiming it will have....

Besides, if you want to see Apple bashing, look for the comments on an apple related article, not a MS one... :p

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Re: Give credit where it's due

Well MS don't exactly have a great reputation for not taking things in the wrong direction. With vista, instead of making it fast, functional and open, they closed it more, added DRM and bloated its UI to epic proportions.

That said, I am looking forward to this table, think of the boardgames you could play. You could prop it on its side and use it as a TV :)

There are lots of possibilities and when it gets hacked its going to be a pretty awesome toy :D

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Anonymous Coward

Looks like a quick knockoff of Jeff Han's work

This is what they had in Dec 2005:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/click_online/4534674.stm

A bowl, single touch, dragging images from camera to be stored in the bottom of the bowl.

Meanwhile shortly after that, Jeff showed his work, which is now at this stage:

http://www.perceptivepixel.com/

It looks like Microsoft quickly added multi-touch and made a table of it. It certainly doesn't look like they've been developing that for 5 years, given we saw the forerunner of it and it was single touch and pretty crappy.

Wow yes, but a poor copy of someone else's wow. If Apple launch a Mac with that interface and they get their patents, Microsoft is toast. Which is why I think they're keep to pretend it was developed at MS.

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reactable

umm they can't be the first to bring this to market, since I just saw the reactable in use at the Bjork show in Vancouver.

http://mtg.upf.edu/reactable/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ReacTable

http://www.youtube.com/v/0h-RhyopUmc

very neat stuff.

best of luck ms! well, no not really ;-)

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Yeah! MS is inovating... AGAIN!!!

Of course none of it is original nor is it even their own or original ideas.

BUT people do remember, this is as close as they can get to inovating anything.

See they hope they can make everyone forget about Jeff Han and the ReacTable and all of the other various REAL INOVATIONS out there and then they can claim it all as their own.

Soon coming to you the MS DinnerTable, can't quite have dinner without one! And even if you could, it wouldn't be the same.

Why even bother to see "their demo", the originals are the only ones worth beans. MS can show you how NOT to build it but get it right... yeah, right! That is right up there with MS Works.

lol

Tnt

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Microsoft's most inovative product marketing uses... flash?

So where's the much touted Silverlight being used then?

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Anonymous Coward

Richard Kay...WTF?

Richard, if you're entertaining a nice girl at a swanky resturant, why in the bloody hell would you want to suddenly call up the command prompt on what is something there to make your dining experience easier?

"How should we split the bill darling?" she asks with those aluring eyes.

"Wait a sec babe I'm just going to...run Lynx on the command prompt to check my e-mail" you reply back as you desperately think of something to do if ever did have access to the command prompt of a table bound device not really designed for it.

Its guys like you who scare people away from Linux.

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ergo-thingys

The ergonomics should be no issue here people, just tilt half of the table to around 90 degrees, triangulation, screen view, object placement, posture all easy now so why not give me a job!

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Possibilities R Unlimited...

Its nice to see a great innovative concept from Microsoft in a long time which have unlimited possibilities.

And is it just me ....that the people that can't come up with innovative / useful ideas (and make it happan into reality & beat Microsoft at Windows etc) just keep critisizing Microsoft ?

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Patents

I wonder how many illegal patents Microsoft have filed for this technology so far.

Someone made a rather sweeping claim in this thread that we are all Apple loving MS hating bigots (or something to that effect). Not true, I hate both Apple and MS and I hate them both with a passion, so much of a passion in fact that both Apple and MS products are completely banned from my house (and Sony too but thats another story, well actually its the same story just a different company).

The fact of the matter remains that MS have not invented or innovated anything here, it is old technology that people have been working on around the world for like 20 years. The only thing new here is the multitouch and even that has been developed by various other (see some of the other comments here for links) people before Microsoft.

I would like to see it running on a vertical display surface with XGL+Compiz but oh yeah, I forgot, we can already do that for a couple hundred quid as opposed to thousands.

MS Innovation? Funniest thing I have heard today, but then it is only 5:50am so plenty of time to see a politician talk or watch Beadles About yet.

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It just sucks

Table top computer displays have been around in one form or another for years. They haven't become ubiqutous because its just not a very nice place to have a display -- you can't put anything on the table (and marks interfere with the screen clarity), its distracting if you have got stuff on the table, its "down there" -- how often do you read a book with the book sitting on a coffee table? In short, a bit of an ergonomic disaster.

I'm not too taken with the control interface. I use a tablet every day, I read the news over breakfast. The tablet's nicer than a laptop -- no keyboard to get crumbs stuck down -- but its still prone to splashes of food on it. The tablet interface itself is one of those things that sounds really cool until you've got to use it for more than the most superficial data entry.

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Volte face

James Cleveland (above):

"You could prop it on its side and use it as a TV"

That's a coincidence! I lay my TV on its back and use it as a table. Makes it easier to watch naff 70s porn videos while eating microwaved readymeals.

In keeping with the 'Tomorrows World' aura, let's hope M$ redefine the color scheme for the table-top BSOD - *beige* screen of death, anyone?

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ga ga (or is it goo goo?)

There seems to be something of the kindergarden about this. I gave up writing with my fingertips years ago. Chimps would find it handy though.

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Anonymous Coward

Business Use?

Interesting that at the price point mentioned ($5k-$10k) all of the examples on the website show end-user type applications - what about the potential for business meetings, potentially even using inter-office meetings where people can instantly outline their ideas etc.

Then again, using technology available today most of this is possible (using more "traditional" input methods) with Webex and a simple projector...

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Anonymous Coward

Amusing.

The more extreme comments on here reconfirm all the clichés about IT staffers

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