Seattle-Day 2

Today, we spent most of the day on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington (a short bus ride from downtown Seattle).

The first part of the day was a tour of the Microsoft Envisioning Center. The Envisioning Center is a place where Microsoft can demo technologies that they think will become common in the next 5 – 10 years.

They have the Envisioning Center divided up into a few different sections, representing the future workspace (i.e. the corporate experience) and a model domestic home.

Probably the most significant change that Microsoft thinks the future will hold is in the proliferation of interoperable touch screens. Our tour guide demoed several scenarios where content on a phone or tablet could be “thrown” onto a big screen to display to a group or simply to see in a bigger format.

Another cool example was a series of networked digital picture frames scattered throughout the model home. The guide could do things like select a series of photos from a family album and have them rotated throughout the home.

The model kitchen was also really interested. The kitchen had projectors everywhere, allowing recipes to be projected on the the food preparation counter, cooking times projected directly onto the pans as they heat on the stove, and video conference consulting with professional chefs anywhere in the world on a large wall screen.

Microsoft is also making a big push to put Kinect motion sensors everywhere, so that interaction with digital objects becomes really easy. We saw a demo of a virtual potter’s wheel: a Kinect was used to quickly scan a pottery flower pot and build a digital model of it. Then that digital model could be virtually reshaped simply by moving your hands in front of the sensor, with the effects showing up on screen.

It’s hard to describe everything we saw, but if you want to see some of the stuff in the Envisioning Center, Microsoft has a video showing some of it.

We also got to meet with Neal Leslie, on the Windows Phone Product Evangelization team. His job is to convince developers to write a version of their apps for Windows Phone. Part of the problem that Windows Phone has faced in competing with Apple’s iPhone and phones powered by Google’s Android is that in a lot of cases, people choose their platform based on the available apps. Neal said that until recently, for example, the increasingly popular Instagram was only available on iOS and Android. He was directly involved in the process of convincing Facebook (who own Instagram) to write a version of Instagram for Windows Phone.

The third and final person we met with at Microsoft was Dave Maltz. Dave Maltz works in Microsoft Research as an engineer working to develop networking technologies for the next generation of data centers. He gave us a ton of information on how networks are organized and built at a large scale, as well as regaling us with some great stories about mishaps he’s witnessed.