Microsofts Milan: Look, Dont Touch?

Milan's touch-sensitive display that enables multiple users to navigate the system's interface is a very old, and often troubled, idea.

Doesnt the Milan, Microsofts "surface-based" computer look cool? Just to look at it, Id want one as my coffee-table even if is running Windows Vista, instead of Linux.

But I suspect Ill never get one. In fact, Im not sure it will do well enough to have a second generation of systems for consumers. You see, Milans touch-sensitive display that enables multiple users to navigate the systems interface is a very old, and often troubled, idea.

Touch screens go all the way back to 1974. Then, Sam Hurst and Elographics—todays Elo Touchsystems—created the first true touch screens. Now, unless youre in the vertical kiosk computer business—think restaurant cash registers and bar poker machines—chances are youve never heard of Hurst or Elo.

Theres a reason for that. For all that touch screen fans have been saying for 30-plus years now—that touch computing is easier, that its natural—its not and it isnt. If it were either of those two things, wed all be using them by now. Were not.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about the launch of Milan.

The first problem is that ergonomically speaking, large touch screens tire the arm. This leads to a phenomenon called "gorilla arm." Historically, the explanation is that you look like a gorilla after using one for a while. Ive always wondered if its really because your arm feels like its been pulled by a gorilla. You get the point. You can get away with small touch screens because youre only using your wrists and fingers, but once you start using your shoulder and elbow, arm fatigue quickly sets in.

/zimages/5/176331.jpg Notice where large touch screens are used now? Theyre interface devices that are used for a few second every few minutes. So, I can see the Milan as an interface for cell phone information. Sure that would work. But, as a consumer device... ah... no, I cant see it.

Theres another problem even in the business space for any touch display. Smudges and scratches can make working on touch screens a pain. For any touch screen to work correctly, it needs to be cleaned constantly.

People have known about this obstacle for as long as there has been touch screens. For example, several touch screen resellers have told me that they recommend customers use the top-end display cleaning product, Klear Screen for their devices. Why? Because it cleans out the grease and grime without potentially fouling up the displays touch sensitivity.

Other companies, such as Synaptics Inc., which specializes in user interfaces, are working on new, tougher display surfaces. Synaptics ClearPad technology, for example, is a thin, high-resolution capacitive touch screen thats meant to take a beating. Unfortunately, its still only available in concept devices such as the Onyx phone.

Milan not only has this general problem, as a large, flat-surface device, you know whats going to happen, right? Yes, someone is going to place a Coke can or a coffee cup, or both, on it. I wonder what the computer will make of a Snickers bar.

Even if you remove your candy bar quickly, fast food is going to quickly gunk up the display. And, then, of course, someone is going to grab their can of Mountain Dew and... I wonder. Just how soda-proof are these computers, anyway?

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