Microsoft patents teapot user interface – may be critical to Windows 7 user experience

United States Patent Application 20080013860 “Creation of three-dimensional user interface” was filed by Microsoft on July 14, 2006. I believe this is somehow related to Windows 7, only if I can figure out how it works…


A three-dimensional (3-D) user interface (UI) creation system maps a two-dimensional (2-D), interactive UI to an 3-D object template in a 3-D scene. Once mapped, the 2-D UI functions as a simple user interface while appearing as a skin to the 3-D object. A 3-D UI creation tool applies image resources of a 2-D UI template to a 3-D wire frame template to create a 3-D UI. The system provides for rapid implementation of a 3-D UI without need for understanding a 3-D space or 3-D authoring software. The process includes preparing a 2-D UI, loading a 3-D scene of 3-D objects, and mapping the 2-D UI to a 3-D object template in the 3-D scene. A scheme file provides a specification for recreating the 3-D scene in a runtime module whereby the 3-D scene functions as a 3-D UI system, allowing interaction via a user input system.

Anyone who comes up with the best explanation will be awarded a 2D copy of the M1 build of Windows 7.

Update: Since you’re all too smart and I’m so generous, you can all download a copy of Windows 7 M1 here (1.5GB ISO).

48 insightful thoughts

  1. Obviously the patent covers displaying data on a surface other than a flat screen. Here, it is talking about using the “teapot” as its VDU (visual display unit).

  2. God i love some of the illustrations MS put with their patent applications. Such as the one you found with the penguins.

  3. Oh strange. This kindly rebinds me how that ui stuff inside of the Doom III engine is rendered on 3D objects.

    Maybe this is a new Flip 3D thingy mapped on a torus, a sphere or a cube, where the 3D object can be rotated via touch?

    There was someday a video out there showing WPF (Avalon) mapping a 2D gui on a 3D realtime table cloth. Fits well to that teapot. Expact to see a 3D cake gui in the Windows 7 SP1 :)

  4. nice example of 2D ui functions in 3D ^^

    maybe there exists some more specific patent and to create a “new” patent, Microsoft choose to make it on a teapot .. if we can put everything that is in a 2D UI in a looking 3D UI.. it could be nice, and nicer if we can really choose the form of the 3D display unit.

  5. yeah this stuff is possible with WPF, now it has integrated support for user interaction with the 2D controls on the 3D element in .NET 3.5

  6. Well, I think the best example of this technology is PictureBowl. PictureBowl is, according to Microsoft Research, a spherical display for loosely managing content on mobile devices.

    In a review of BCC, which can be found here, Microsoftie Alex Taylor said:

    […]”What we hope to be able to do is take still images and video and be able to see them in the bowl and possibly also listen to music.

    “We also hope to be able to drag the images around the bowl, making use of the physical properties of the bowl to be able to display things in certain places, and possibly let them sit at the bottom of the bowl for storage.” [..]

    Microsoft already said that they hoped to launch such product to the market in 2007. You can find more info about this technology over here: .There is also a youtube-movie where you can see the PictureBowl for a few seconds (from minute 01:20 to 01:55): .

  7. Kinda reminds me of WPF and DWM. Take the 2D Bitmaps (output of an window) and use it as a texture over a 3D wireframe (desktop).

  8. I am completely sure this is a conspiracy between Microsoft and Lipton, they are just trying to make people who use windows drink tea, which is good for Lipton’s sales. Of course, this would go completely unnoticed so it falls under subliminal advertising.
    Therefore all people, including Microsoft Employees should switch to Mac, which is free of subliminal advertising.

  9. Of course there is no subliminal advertising on a Mac. It’s like a cult- anything that has an “i” before it must be good. Just think, they would pick up “iWindows 7” in a heartbeat.

    Anyways, I think what the patent is for is a way of projecting a 2D image onto a 3d surface and then using that surface as a way of interacting with the computer- kind of like Surface without a flat surface.

  10. I think you guys are all way overthinking this. Yes, the teapot is there to kind of throw you off.

    Think about it this way, icons in Windows are objects. Usually, you can only click on them to activate them, or right click them to adjust properties. The idea in this patent is that if you have a desktop that could render 3D objects, you can wrap them in a 2D interface and interact with parts of that object in a logical manner.

    So forget the teapot, let’s talk about a more logical sort of object … a camera. The skin on the camera would be the controls, and could even look like a real camera. The screen is the photo viewer, and you can click the arrow cluster to sift through the photos. To keep the metaphor, the skin on the camera could even look like your actual camera, so the interface is consistent whether it’s on your computer or in your hands.

    Another example: a cell phone. Again, the skin would look like your real phone, and you could interact with it in similar ways. Your contact list, ringtones, etc. are all managed by interacting with the phone the same way you do with the phone in your hand.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think this has anything to do with Windows 7.

  11. It could possibly relate to the fact that currently with WPF, you can place controls on a 3D surface but its quite hard to automatically make the clicks and interactions pass from the mouse, through the viewport to the right point on the control.

    This patent could describe a framework and simplification for letting developers map 2D controls to simple 3D objects easily. :)

  12. i’m still looking for it but when i find it i’ll post a link.
    the description reminded me of something i saw in a video on

    in the video, the dude lays a bunch of objects on a table and uses a special camera to capture the scene and translate it into actual geometry in a game. the dude then picks up a Xbox 360 controller and starts “driving” around the scene with a race car and they react to the presence of the objects. driving up someone’s hand at high speed e.g. causes the car to fly off the apex and flip end over end. it was maybe the coolest piece of tech i’d seen at that show… if i can just remember the name of that damn show…

  13. Why do you think the patent was something filed by the Windows group? It could have come from XBOX or OFFICE or anyother group at Microsoft…

  14. They realized the sad flat monitor wasn’t enough for a stunning UI, so they had this *great* idea. Now we are going to tap the top of the teapot to see the start menu; then we must rotate two or three times around the 3D thing to find where was located our “window”. And then, we may freak out trying to work reading a teapot. I’m going to blog about this.

  15. I bet my left ball (lost the right one when I bet that Vista RTM will look different than B2) that Windows 7 UI won’t be radically different from what we have today. MS cannot do this kind of stuff – hell, they even diminished most of Virtual Folders not to confuse average users!

  16. Its clearly their attempt to take down Apple. Apple has been always known to appeal to people with little computer experience…what a better way to get these users than a device they’ve been using for years, a teapot!

  17. …Maybe this is just the British equivalent of a new Microsoft interface. Perhaps the United States equivalent will be a coffee pot and microsoft will be teaming up with Maxwell Coffee. Might even be a Sake bottle in Japan. :)

  18. Maybe it has something to do with curving media and pictures.

    So all contacts could be made up of a 3D model of the msn dude
    Or something like a video wall

  19. I clicked on the link for the ISO and no go – I don’t get it, did they take it down already? Obviously I, as the most valuable contributer, should have gotten a copy! What’s the deal, Long?

  20. They have to use a teapot, if they used a coffee pot, Sun would sue for infringing on their Java trademarks and patents.

    Seriously tho, it sounds exactly like what they say it is – an easy way to make a harder to use interface. “Dang, the close button is INSIDE THE BLOODY SPOUT!!!”

    THat said, I wish my Vista desktop would use the 3d card properly and let me rotate flat windows in 3d. The sidebar would be just as useful if I could tilt it backwards (assuming the video card used AA etc to render it correctly) and use less screen space. Want to keep a window large but have it appear smaller? Push it further back. Want to see what is behind it? tip it down. All that would be cool without risking loosing UI buttons in the crack of a model.. (eh-hem, sorry, my freudian slip appears to be showing)

  21. Now this is a silly patent. There is nothing new and revolutionary with this. Even in 2006. It is just a simple 3d object hit-testing where you get an UV-coordinate which in turn is used for UI interaction in normal 2D space behind the scenes. Whoever granted this patent did zero research on stuff that has been done before and has probably never played a game or used a 3d authoring tool, or even talked with someone who has.

  22. @Malmar. It’s not hit testing. There is an actual user interface mapped to a 3D object. That means real controls – not textures/pictures.

  23. Don’t know if any of the above comments said this or not. This is the Utah Teapot which is somewhat of a legacy and in joke in computer graphics. It’s used as a demonstrations 3D model a lot of the times in graphics. I think some people are confused about what this patent is. It isn’t a 3D display or a funny shaped display but a way to have a 3D application with 3D objects that have UI on their surface. The teapot is just an extreme case (a joke). Like some people mentioned this was added to WPF. I think there is a video on Channel 9 about this.

  24. @mrmckeb:
    Yes, but how hard is it to translate that 3d object hit using barycentric coordinates of a the triangle hit to get the UV coordinate on the 2d surface and then send a click, drag or whatever to the underlying 2d control. Just like vista does or Doom 3 did. The surfaces just happened to be a square surface. Could have been a Stanford bunny aswell but it wouldn’t be too practical for windows to be bunny shaped. It is all just UV coordinates.

  25. Isn’t it about a application scanning a 3d object, to figure out where to place the buttons on a 2d surface, so it makes a schema file with this info. Having the interactive stuff (eg. buttons) as transparent 2d elements on a 3d background is a lot more efficient, as it is only the 2d layer they are interacting with, the 3d layer is just a background…

  26. Microsoft is working with Crestron on Windows 7. The teapot is nothing but a teapot on a “Painting” in the home which also happens to be a freagin touchscreen. Or else it might be that Microsoft research has lost it. My best guess is that it will be used to bring paintings to life and in this illistration, refers to the integration of Crestron into Windows 2010, or 7 as you all say.


  27. Looks to me like they’re trying to undercut the open-source Compiz Fusion desktop, where the 2D GUI is projected onto the sides of a rotating cube (with each side as a different workspace). The complex object (the teapot) is smoke-and-mirrors – if it were a simple geometrical shape, the prior art would be obvious. I wonder if this is one of the patents Ballmer claims Linux infringes?

  28. Sorry I arrived late at the party!
    Does anyone else have a link to the “โ€œw7m1.iso” file?
    I know that it won’t be long before it is available through “connection” but still, any earlier experience would be greatly appreciated.

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