posted by Thom Holwerda on Sat 7th Nov 2009 00:24 UTC
IconWhether you like Microsoft or not, the Redmond giant does have one thing going for it: the company's research division. Working together with several universities and other institutions, Microsoft Research works on the soft and hardware of the future, ranging from research operating systems to insanely cool things like what Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie showed off during the Microsoft College Tour '09 (more videos).

I'm sure most of you remember the flashy gesture-based interface used by that certain actor in the science fiction film Minority Report. Standing in front of glass panels, the actor swooshed his hands in the air, manipulating objects on the "screen". It looked pretty cool.

Microsoft - but loads of other companies too - have been working on implementing Minority Report-style concept interfaces and hardware for a while now, and during the Microsoft College Tour '09, Craig Mundie showed off working hardware which looks pretty much exactly like what you see in the film.

It's a glass panel, standing in front of Mundie like a normal monitor. Mundie lays a tablet computer in front of it, and by flicking an object on the tablet upwards, it appears on the glass panel. He then proceeds to use gestures to manipulate the object on the glass panel - without actually touching the panel (the embedded video requires Silverlight, but you can download an .mpg too).

I'm not so sure it will be comfortable to use such gestures on a regular basis, but the glass panel display is something that has me really excited. I've long had the belief that computers - and thus, displays - will become ever more seamless parts of our daily lives; transparent, if you will.

Currently, a computer is still a dedicated device which you carry around or have stationary somewhere in your house. It is clear where the computer is and what it looks like. It is hooked up to another dedicated object which carries some serious presence with it: the display.

Displays, whether they be computer monitors or televisions, are getting ever thinner, and I think we'll soon hit a point where a display is nothing more than a sheet of thin glass, barely noticeable when not turned on. I would love for my computer monitor or television to be a nearly invisible pane of glass stuck to the wall - as it stands today, the TV and computer monitor are the centrepieces of many a household, even when turned off. Wouldn't it be great to have displays that more or less disappear when you're not using them?

Thank god for companies like Microsoft who are willing to spend countless millions of dollars on research, together with universities. Some of this research will benefit the entire world. Like any other company, I dislike Microsoft - but not their research division. Those boys and girls are doing some damn interesting work.

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