Microsoft shows off prototype next-generation office wall

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Photo credit: Microsoft Advertising/Flickr

Say what you might about their products on the market, but when it comes to flashy prototypes and revolutionary concepts, Microsoft is indisputably a clear leader in the industry.

The latest of these perpetually next-generation prototypes out of Microsoft Research to be shown to the public is an integrated home office environment that combines the wonders of interactive wall displays, a Microsoft Surface and a digital assistant, albeit with a creepy voice and unsettling-long response time.

This particular demo presented by Yusuf Mehdi, Senior Vice President of Microsoft’s Online Audience Business, to the crowd at the Interactive Advertising Bureau MIXX 2009 conference assumes the scenario of an architect designing a pond, and I’m sure they do and spend as much effort in. The architect uses this computer to plan, simulate and collaborate with others in designing the pond.

Those of you who recall the 2019 vision video might see some similarities in the visual aesthetics of the graphics and animations used in the prototype suggesting this is most likely an Office Labs project too.

The video I extracted from the low-quality stream doesn’t really do the visuals justice. To get a better look of the wall, check out the photos from Microsoft Advertising’s Flickr stream.

37 insightful thoughts

  1. Seriously, I’m not sure what the objective of these videos are. Is it future proofing the Microsoft brand?
    It makes much more sense for the R&D department to work on realistic use-cases that are just one or two steps away form the current generation of products.

    How does the Digital Assistant know about the budget plans? To ask valid questions this the data has to be domain specific – not just a spreadsheet. Rather than seeing canned questions / answers the real problem is how to model this data so that it can be queried with natural language.

    For the archicture view, how is this modeled? To enable 3D model collaboration there needs to be standards or a good extensibility model. Assuming the latter, how much of this demo is expected to be the platform, and how much would an IT team provide.

    The reality is that we’re in a position where a new toolbar in Office is seen as a radical change. Look at Office 95 compared to 2010. Is it realistic to expect this much change in the next 10 years?

  2. Joe,

    Microsoft R&D has done stuff that is already released, and they work on things that vary from being a few years away to being decades away. This would be an example of something that’s a little further down the pipe, but what they envision the synergy or technologies producing.

    You do bring up good questions, though… and ultimately why a “assistant” character won’t ever be as good as we want it to be, not unless we can make a realistic AI anytime soon (that not only can recognize what your query is, but how to process it, where to get the data, etc.) — and I don’t know if that’s something we will see in the next 15-20 years.

  3. Agreed Nicholas,

    But a vision without a plan, in this case, is just another episode of Star Trek. Looking back over past presentations, from PDCs years gone by, I don’t see the evidence that the product teams are using R&D in their roadmaps.

  4. That was cool, but yeah I agree with the others – are they ever going to release such a product? Or any of this stuff?

    And Dag’s voice was creepy. They might as well have had HAL.

  5. If he moved more to show the effect he’d have to walk to the other side of the stage, which is nonsensical in a home office situation and wouldn’t provide the person movie with a good enough view of the wall anyway.

  6. Haha, “simulazation”.

    Anyway, this looks great, and in some ways actually better than what we’ve seen in the Office Labs 2019 concept videos. It just needs a better method for direct input, like… a stylus. Yes, I said it.

  7. And to think, this is the stuff that’s shown-off!

    Truth-be-told. These kinds of expos are done to show that Microsoft is doing SOMETHING. If Microsoft didn’t put together something shiny and awe-inspiring to show off at events, we’d pass Microsoft off as a ho-hum company that tries to milk their bottom-line dry. Fact is, there are incredible technologies in labs right now that we won’t see for many years because they can’t be “shown off” in a publicly tangible way quite yet.

    A friend of mine works at a development firm here in Seattle and he showed off a device that made a dot of white light appear where five laser beams crossed. Another guy in the room said “what good is that? Whoopee! A dot of light!” But we knew that this could be the technology that could evolve to full 3D “random space” holography. No more enclosures or “mists” to project on and in. Good ol’ “stick-your-hand-through” holography.

    It’s obvious this presentation was made by designers and not by coders. So while the coders are hard at work making this stuff a reality, us designers will be crystallizing the vision to make it human-usable and visually stunning.

    Some great things are on the way.

  8. A lot of the user-centric computing in this demo reminds me of the Easy Living MSR project from years ago. It’s nice to see that Natal-based technologies (and others) may make Easy Living (or some aspects of it in the short term) easier to implement for general consumers.

    Easy Living
    http://research.microsoft.com/apps/pubs/default.aspx?id=68393

    For those interested, there’s an MPEG-1 video of an Easy Living demo on the page of one of the project’s researchers:
    http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/jckrumm/old%20(2001)/professional.htm#EasyLiving

  9. Why didn’t Microsoft use a computerized voice for Dag? It would sound better than this creepy, tinny, pre-recorded voice.

    And why are they doing this? It’s not like they have the AI technology or the will to make this a reality any time soon.

  10. “And why are they doing this? It’s not like they have the AI technology or the will to make this a reality any time soon.”

    It’s an area of active research.
    At TechFest recently, they showed an implementation of similar technology as a digital receptionist.

    http://msstudios.vo.llnwd.net/o21/presspass/zune/Receptionist_Demo_Short_Zune.wmv
    http://community.research.microsoft.com/blogs/techfestlive/archive/2009/02/25/the-virtual-receptionist.aspx

  11. Hi guy’s,
    Microsoft R&D has done stuff that is already released, and they work on things that vary from being a few years away to being decades away. This would be an example of something that’s a little further down the pipe, but what they envision the synergy or technologies producing.

  12. Wow. My dad told me about this but I couldn’t really believe it. 10 years ago I had a thinkpad laptop that weighs about 20-30 pounds. I have had several laptops inbetween it and my new thinkpad and now, unlike my old thinkpad, I can easily hold it with 3 fingers. Also not to mention my first laptop(the big thinkpad) had a slot for a FLOPPY DISK!!!!! haha now I’ve got 3 ports for the replacement of the floppy, flash drives. haha its not going to be long before the jetsons become real ^.^

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