Last week Microsoft Research held the 2008 edition of their annual Faculty Summit in Redmond complete with the release of free academic-flavored software tools and demos of Microsoft Research and faculty research projects. The biggest buzz was over the multi-touch Sphere display which uses a refinement of Microsoft’s Surface technology, but frankly it seems mostly useful as a prop for the villain in the next James Bond movie.
Looking over the full list of demo projects yields a number of others which are more likely to be of real utility including the following for "touch" fans which appeal to my prejudice that I don’t want my screen smudged up, thanks.
Ilya Rosenberg and Ken Perlin present the UnMousePad, a paper thin, flexible multi-touch device about size of a mouse pad. The UnMousePad not only continuously detects a multitude of touches, it also senses varying levels of pressure at a resolution high enough to distinguish multiple fingertips and even the tip of a pen or pencil. Because of its form-factor, it can be used for simple mouse input, for multi-touch gestures, or for a wide variety of interactive applications, such as games, 3D sculpting, 6DOF object manipulation, musical instruments, and interactive control of synthesized human voice.
LucidTouch is a new type of touch screen device. It prevents the user’s fingers from occluding screen contents by allowing users to interact with the backside of the device, yet providing visual control by means of "pseudo-transparency." The benefit of this approach is that it allows making very small touch devices, which is not possible with traditional touch screen technology.
When I starting reading the latter description I thought it implied worse contortions than the average desktop touch screen, but for small devices it seems interesting, not to mention novel. Here’s more (including videos) on both the UnMousePad and the LucidTouch.
David Worthington of the SD Times has gotten hold of some Microsoft documents describing Midori. an adtech operating system being developed under Eric Rudder Senior Vice President, Technical Strategy:
Microsoft is incubating a componentized non-Windows operating system known as Midori, which is being architected from the ground up to tackle challenges that Redmond has determined cannot be met by simply evolving its existing technology.
SD Times has viewed internal Microsoft documents that outline Midori’s proposed design, which is Internet-centric and predicated on the prevalence of connected systems.
Midori is an offshoot of Microsoft Research’s Singularity operating system, the tools and libraries of which are completely managed code. Midori is designed to run directly on native hardware (x86, x64 and ARM), be hosted on the Windows Hyper-V hypervisor, or even be hosted by a Windows process.
According to published reports, Eric Rudder, senior vice president for technical strategy at Microsoft and an alumnus of Bill Gates’ technical staff, is heading up the effort. Rudder served as senior vice president of Microsoft’s Servers and Tools group until 2005. A Microsoft spokesperson refused comment.
So is Midori Microsoft’s post-Windows operating system? The documents do not say and there is many a slip between adtech and product, but it is nonetheless interesting to see what Microsoft is working on.
In a nutshell, Midori is a clean break from Windows with a modular, componentized design exploiting connectivity where applications are composed of pieces that could reside on a multitude of devices in multiple locations. For the end user there would be a brand new GUI with applications "created using .NET languages that will be compiled to native code using the Bartok compiler and runtime system, which is presently a Microsoft Search project."
There’s much more there, but while all this sounds swell if you an operating system guru starting with a blank sheet of paper, what about Microsoft’s often dilatory and fractious crowd of partners in the Windows ecosystem with their host of legacy Windows applications and device drivers? Lip service is paid to providing "options for Midori applications to co-exist with and interoperate with existing Windows applications, as well as to provide a migration path" and Worthington plans two more articles based on the documents, one of which is on this very topic.
Still, it was the relatively minor changes in Vista coupled with partner sluggishness that has led to most of Vista’s bad reputation and this promises to be many orders of magnitude worse. Ah, but it’s a grand dream.
Generally overlooked last week at NAB2007, the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters, was the demonstration by Microsoft Research and partner Skinkers of LiveStation: Interactive live TV on the PC that works! The Gartner Group’s Allen Weiner explains:
Certainly not as physically large as the display at the large broadcast engineering booths at the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB2007), but of perhaps greater significance, is LiveStation. LiveStation is an effort from U.K.-based Skinkers, a firm that builds and manages RSS delivery ecosystems. It is alpha-testing a new system for delivering an unlimited number of live TV channels to the desktop. The solution is software-based and is built on top of Pastry, a peer-to-peer technology developed by Microsoft Research primarily in its Cambridge, U.K., labs. This flavor of P2P is secure and robust, requires less server-side infrastructure, because of its ability to optimize the network, and is suited for live streaming, while most P2P applications are focused on the on-demand streaming market.
The demo of LiveStation, which showed a good-quality picture from the BBC in the midst of a bandwidth-hogging tech show, has another thing going for it – its ability to leverage Microsoft’s new Silverlight platform to create “content experiences” based on LiveStation’s streams. Has interactive TV finally found its way to the consumer?
There’s more by following the link including that Microsoft is an equity partner in Skinkers. If you want to try LiveStation for yourself, you can apply here.
Microsoft Corp. today announced the launch of ZenZui, an independent company with the mission of transforming the way people engage, consume and interact with Web content through a revolutionary mobile user experience and information ecosystem. ZenZui’s Zooming User Interface, a technology patented by Microsoft, was initially developed by the Microsoft Research lab in Redmond, Wash. Microsoft’s IP Ventures helps startups and growing companies speed their time to market through access to Microsoft innovations. ZenZui worked with IP Ventures to acquire the technology and assistance in securing venture capital funding to help launch its company.
ZenZui’s core technology brings advanced information visualization techniques out of the research lab and onto mobile phones and into the hands of mobile device operators, marketers and consumers. ZenZui’s high-frame rate Zooming User Interface employs up to 36 individual “tiles” that are selected and customized by users to reflect their interests and lifestyle with relevant content, interactive communications and fresh data.
ZenZui has closed a Series-A financing round of $12 million from Oak Investment Partners and Hunt Ventures. Wireless entrepreneur Tom Huseby of SeaPoint Ventures acts as chairman of the board. Leading ZenZui as CEO is Eric Hertz, who brings 22 years of international wireless experience to the venture.
The whole service is a a clever way to increase deck placement on mobile phones. Deck placement is the set of default applications that come on mobile phones. It’s the most coveted space on your mobile and distribution through deck placement makes or breaks most mobile apps. Currently deck placement is hard to come by because it’s determined by carriers at the highest levels and often includes some revenue sharing. ZenZui application has essentially turned one spot into 36 (they hope to make it 1000).
This would all be well and good if ZenZui wasn’t essentially doing the same thing carriers are doing right now, charging for placement. You see, ZenZui isn’t a new way to surf the web on your phone, but rather a new way to surf ZenZui’s web on your phone. It’s all elegantly summed up in this chart showing marketers and developers piping content into your phone.
Each of the 36 spots currently included with ZenZui are powered by content partners, such as Zillow, Eventful, Kayak, OTOlabs, Avenue A, Razorfish and Traffic.com. They will be monetized using “well-established advertising principles like CPA and CPM (we call it CPZ – Cost Per Zoom)”. To encourage development, ZenZui will split ad revenue with widget developers.
I knew there was sure to be some money in the deal somewhere. Also, although it is not spelled out explicity in the press release, it is being generally reported that Microsoft reatins an equity stake in the company.