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.
: Microsoft Center Gives a Peak Into the Future”>
The goal here is to show how all of the functionality available on BroadBench follows users on all their devices, irrespective of their location, and can be accessed using voice and handwriting recognition.
The “boardroom,” large screen and portable Tablet PCs are thus used to show this, as well as to demonstrate RingCam and potential conference technologies of the future.
Off the boardroom is a room with a mock car dashboard, again used to show how the data and technologies transfer, as well as an airplane seat with a kiosk of the future that will give users access to all the same information.
Gruver said he expects some 1,000 customers to tour the center each month. Microsoft will collect feedback from these visitors and use it to guide which technologies to move toward reality and which need refining to better address real business problems customers face, he said.
Janice Skredsvig, a senior director for heavy-duty truck manufacturer PACCAR Inc., in Bellevue, Wash., is enthusiastic about the center.
She told eWEEK on Wednesday that the company was already applying several of the technologies on display, particularly those in the area of mobility151such as telematics, wireless tablet computing and virtual conferencing.
PACCAR151which has more than 9,000 Windows Desktops and laptops, more than 800 Windows 2000 front- and back-end servers as well as 75 back-end Unix servers151is always looking for technologies that allow it to be more effective and efficient.
“Our customers are highly mobile so its only natural that we would have interest in applying the technologies on display at the CIW to solving their business problems. Some of the technologies displayed at CIW illustrate how mobile solutions can keep us connected to our customers, wherever they may be, providing them with information and services that increase their business productivity. We would like to see these technologies available as soon as possible,” she said.
Asked if PACCAR would be prepared to pay for much of this technology to be delivered as Web services, Skredsvig said a lot remains to be seen in how Web services payment models actually pan out. “There are both risks and benefits to a pricing model that is based on actual usage. Until the models are better defined, its premature to guess their impact,” she said.