I must confess, as a lifetime Mac loyalist, it made me laugh when everyone was so impressed with Microsoft's Vista which was released earlier this year because it simply took all the things the Apple's Mac interface has had for the past 5 years and applied it to their own software.
Now, the buzz is all about Microsoft's "surface computing" (codename: Milan) which is clearly the same sort of interface already available on the drool-worthy iphone by Mac. But, yes, it's bigger. And bigger is better.
Why they have made it a 'coffee table' in lieu of a desk surface, I'm not sure except that to see the surface in its entirety, you do have to be 'above it'. I wouldn't want to keep bending over the low surface -they ought to make it adjustable like a draftsman table, but it's still very cool.
By Dan Costa from PC Mag:
Microsoft has been looking beyond the desktop for sometime now, but with the launch of "Milan," the company is showing the potential for so-called "surface computing" to revolutionize everything from retail kiosks to the common coffee table. At its core, Milan is a PC running Windows Vista, but don't expect to use it with a keyboard and mouse. Instead, Milan uses a touch-sensitive display that enables multiple users to navigate the system's interface. See how it works!
Milan will start appearing in commercial locations at the end of this year (think casinos), but PC Magazine was able to sit down with Microsoft executives for a hands-on demo of the new system. The demo unit we saw looked a lot like a coffee table, but you won't want to put your feet up on this system; it was made for touching.
The flat display measures 30 inches diagonally, and is designed to make it easy for multiple users to reach across and touch the screen. Images are projected onto the display via a custom DLP engine. Five infrared cameras set below the display detect contact with the display and enable users to navigate the interface.
Microsoft Milan Surface Computing
By detecting every touch and gesture, Milan offers a very tactile way of interacting with digital information. Users must actually grab files and images with their fingers without the use of a mouse or keyboard. The system also allows multiple users to interact with the display at the same time; it can detect dozens of contact points.
The system includes support for object recognition using a proprietary technology, dubbed Domino, which works like a bar code. With the right Domino tag, basically a small sticker with a black and white pattern on it, Milan can instantly recognize other electronic devices. For example, in our demo, a Wi-Fi digital camera was placed on the surface of Milan and the contents of its memory were instantly displayed as a pile of snapshots alongside the camera on the display. From there, they could be moved around the screen, resized, or sent to other users via e-mail.
Likewise, when a couple of Domino-tagged Zunes were placed on the display, their contents were instantly shown on the display and songs could be exchanged between players simply by dragging their images from one Zune to the other. (With all the DRM-restrictions attached, of course.)
Using Milan is also inherently social. The first application we tested was a simple paint program. We painted on the screen using our fingertips and a simple pallet of colors and effects. We were also able to take photos that were loaded onto the systems hard drive and manipulate them—moving them around the screen, making them larger or smaller, even e-mailing them just by using our fingers. But surface computing isn't just for playing around. In fact, all of the early implementations will be commercial.
Microsoft has announced that Milan will be deployed at commercial properties by the end of the year, including Harrah's Entertainment's Las Vegas properties, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, and International Game Technology (IGT). Milan will also be featured at some T-mobile retail stores.
In our demo, Microsoft showed how Milan could be used to help shoppers choose cell phones. All the buyer needs to do is place two Domino-tagged phones on the surface of the display, and the system will call up features and technical information for each phone for side-by-side comparison. The company also showed how new service plans, ringtones, even music files could be added to your phone simply by dragging and dropping images in the Milan interface.
Microsoft wouldn't release the technical specifications of its Milan surface computing systems, but the company estimated each system would cost between $5,000 and $10,000. Like the Xbox 360, the device was designed and will be manufactured by Microsoft.
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