Microsoft Center Gives a Peek Into the Future

Microsoft's Center for Information Work lets visitors get a peak at productivity technologies of the future.

Microsoft Corp. Thursday will open, on its Redmond campus, the Center for Information Work (CIW), which houses prototypes of potential productivity technologies of the future.

Microsoft, working with center partners Sony Electronics Inc., Intel Corp. and Acer Inc., is running numerous prototypes of software and systems that could hit the market within five years. Prototype technologies from Microsoft Research currently at the Center include BroadBench, a display with a screen 44-inches wide by 11-inches high. (See BroadBench in action.)

This display would probably cost around $10,000 today, but the price would be a lot lower if hundreds of thousands of them were built, said Gary Starkweather, an architect for Microsoft Research and the developer of BroadBench.

"There has been enormous enthusiasm for the product from people like operations managers who want to put a whole lot of servers or functional modules on the screen so they can have an operator watch whats going on with their network," he said.

The goal with BroadBench is also to provide workers with simultaneous access to multiple applications across the screen, which they could individually customize and set up to better manage the flow of information on their desktops.

"The number one piece of feedback we have from research of information workers today is that they need help managing the overload of information and tasks. The idea is to allow every piece of information you need across all your various accounts and devices, to converge into one area.

"All this information comes across a timeline with one central rules bucket, even though its coming from multiple accounts. Whatever is important to you in your business comes as real, live data thats attached to the back-end," Thomas Gruver, group marketing manager for the center, told eWEEK on a recent tour of the site.

One room in the new center boasts a host of different hardware configurations from two- and three-multi-monitors to complete systems working with the upcoming Tablet PC, discreet systems and phones working with PCs.

But Gruver said the idea is not getting Microsoft into the hardware business, but rather allowing it to write user interfaces that take advantage of different configurations.

In another room is a large boardroom table with a large screen and a new device known as the RingCam (see image), an omnidirectional video camera that can record a 360-degree view of a room. It is voice-activated and, Microsoft hopes, will one day significantly affect how professionals participate in and archive meetings while away from the office.