Microsofts Office of the Future Gets a Makeover

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-05-12

Microsofts Office of the Future Gets a Makeover

REDMOND, Wash.—Microsoft in May unveiled the third update to its Center for Information Work, a prototype facility dedicated to exploring how future software developments could empower information workers going forward.

More than 25,000 people have visited the CIW since it was first opened in 2002, with an additional 10,000 visitors expected in the coming year, said CIW group product manager Tom Gruver at a recent media tour of the facility.

The last high-profile guest to tour the CIW was Chinese President Hu Jintao during his April visit to the Microsoft campus here, Gruver said, noting that Microsoft will continue to update scenarios in the CIW to reflect new software-based productivity concepts and feedback from customers.

"With the CIW we want to show how individual productivity can be enhanced and how we are working on building the right tools to enable this. It is all about great access to data, a lot of business intelligence, and team collaboration resulting in better team outcomes," he said.

Those who tour the 3,500-square-foot CIW get a glimpse of some of the experimental technologies that Microsoft envisions will reach the market in the next five to seven years, including seamless synchronization across a new generation of devices.

Also on display is the use of natural interfaces such as gesture recognition, voice, pen and ink, and smart work surfaces; as well as pattern-recognition capabilities that will enable the software to deduce the users activity from context clues and automatically configure the interface and information environment with tools and content appropriate to that activity.

Peter Coffee says gesture recognition is not yet ready for prime time. Click here to read more.

Those who take the tour play the part of employees in a fictitious company, Trey Pharmaceuticals, and are tasked with taking a potential new drug all the way through the FDA approval process to manufacturing using these software-based productivity tools of the future.

This involves individual and collaborative work to resolve scheduling issues, compliance tasks, supply chain partnerships and other business process challenges.

Trey Pharmaceutical "employees" are exposed to a number of potential future innovations, including security innovations to increase the reliability of authentication and simplify the process for users along with biometric characteristics like fingerprints, voice print, retinal scan, handwriting or typing patterns to authenticate users.

Next Page: In the future.

In the Future

"In the future, pattern-recognition capabilities will also enable the software to deduce the users activity from context clues and automatically configure the interface and information environment with tools and content appropriate to the activity," Gruver said.

Context awareness will result in software that can better simulate the "common sense" that humans use to recognize what information is helpful and relevant, so that search results are more targeted and disruptive background activities do not interrupt people while they are focused on other tasks, he said.

The CIW also shows how advances in machine learning and pattern recognition will further automate the implementation of business rules and preferences, while software will be able to use pattern-recognition and machine-learning algorithms to dynamically sort and personalize environmental variables, as well as search results and information based on user needs and behaviors.

On the search front, emerging technologies use metadata, data assigned to each object within an information environment, to make searches more relevant and responsive, while data that carries tags with metadata that are static—like a document author or date of creation--as well as dynamic--such as rights management status and embedded applications--help solve some of the problems associated with versioning and access, Gruver said.

Users may also in the future get the ability to cache search queries and receive notifications when relevant results—even results beyond the scope of the original query—have been added or updated.

In addition, implicit queries will provide users with proactive links to people, content and data as they relate to the task at hand.

Among the prototype technologies on view at the CIW during the tour is the data lens technology, which allows the user to view large pieces of information and documents on smaller screens; and Microsoft RoundTable, a collaboration and communication tool with a 360-degree camera that promises to deliver an immersive conferencing experience that extends the meeting room across multiple locations.

"Microsofts Unified Communications Group, which is focused on simplifying communication and giving people more control over how, where and when they communicate, will continue to develop RoundTable and is scheduled to bring the technology to market in 2007," Gruver said.

To read more about Microsofts Unified Communications Group, click here.

The CIW also makes use of electronic whiteboarding, which lets people in different locations interact as if they were in a conference room together, using tablet and keyboard input to contribute to a shared space in real time.

Automating the archival and retention of all collaboration activities, from team sites and discussion threads to instant messages, meeting activities and application-sharing sessions, in a single logical repository, also helped facilitate compliance and enable knowledge management, he said.

"To help our customers boost their individual and corporate productivity, we must continually increase our understanding of the demands facing information workers today as well as the trends shaping the new world of work. The newly expanded CIW is our companywide think tank for cultivating that knowledge and applying it to the next generation of software-based productivity tools," Gruver said.

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