Connecting Products

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2005-12-19 Print this article Print

Asked what Microsoft products his ideas might impact most, Buxton said: "In some ways the thing that its going to have the most impact on is not so much any product per se, but how they work together—the social relationships between devices." Then Buxton described a scenario where a user with a cell phone gets in his car and drives off with the stereo playing loudly. He receives a call and the cell phone communicates with the stereo to automatically turn down the music, engage a microphone on the cars visor and engage the cars speakers so the driver can carry on a call hands free.
Microsoft lauds scrum method for software projects. Click here to read more.
"Theres a degree of transparency and cooperation between the devices," he said. "My personal bias tends toward more simple devices that can talk to each other in simple ways." At Xerox PARC, Buxton said he focused a lot on user interface work and the concept of enabling "collaborative work at a distance." In addition, "Im famous for being the incredible genius who discovered people have two hands," as two-handed use of computing was not initially considered, he said. "Two-handed input still has yet to gain real traction." Another effort Buxton said he is interested in pursuing further is "capturing the body language or "gestural" vocabulary of humans" to integrate that into technology people use. Meanwhile, when he worked at chief scientist at Alias, Buxton said he helped build software to create special effects for movies such as "Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars." "I spent a lot of time in Hollywood and did a lot of work on digital cinema," he said. He said the software they created took some control away from the director, but the effort in the end was to give it back and foster the creative process of the director through what Buxton referred to as "WYSIWYG [what you see is what you get] cinematography." The Hollywood Reporter named Buxton one of the 10 most influential innovators in the North American film industry in 2001. "I cut my teeth and learned most of what I know, not by being a computer scientist, but by being a musician," said Buxton, who holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. He went from there to study and teach at the Institute of Sonology, Utrecht, Holland, for two years. Then, after completing a M.Sc. in Computer Science on Computer Music at the University of Toronto, he joined the faculty as a lecturer. Designing and using computer-based tools for music composition and performance is what led him into the area of human-computer interaction. "I learned a lot about collaboration by designing electronic musical instruments." Buxton said he likes to go "narrow and deep" in his research. "One of the things Ive found is working on the extremes enables you to gain insight so you can generalize." Before joining Microsoft Research, Buxton was principal of his own Toronto-based design and consulting firm as well as chief scientist at Bruce Mau Design Inc. in Toronto. He also is an associate professor in the department of computer science at the University of Toronto. From 1994 through 2002, Buxton served as chief scientist of Alias|Wavefront (now Alias Systems Corp.) and, starting in 1995, of its parent company, SGI Inc. Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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