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May 30, 2007

Microsoft Surface: Bah, humbug!

Posted by David Hunter at 1:31 PM ET.

I hate to play Ebenezer Scrooge as Santa Bill Gates opens Microsoft’s sack of lab goodies and comes up with something to announce for the Wall Street Journal’s D5 Conference, but the announcement of Microsoft Surface today is just rife with causes for “Bah, humbug!”


Picture a surface that can recognize physical objects from a paintbrush to a cell phone and allows hands-on, direct control of content such as photos, music and maps.

If all the specific objects for which you want to do more than daub at the surface have barcodes in infrared ink.

Surface turns an ordinary tabletop into a vibrant, dynamic surface that provides effortless interaction with all forms of digital content through natural gestures, touch and physical objects.

If your “ordinary tabletop” is augmented with thousands of dollars worth of cameras and projectors plus a translucent surface to project into.

The intuitive user interface works without a traditional mouse or keyboard, allowing people to interact with content and information on their own or collaboratively with their friends and families, just like in the real world. Surface is a 30-inch display in a table-like form factor that small groups can use at the same time. From digital finger painting to a virtual concierge, Surface brings natural interaction to the digital world in a new and exciting way.

If you want a novel diversion for preschoolers then Microsoft Surface is for you, but for anything serious it is limited to an expensive kiosk-type niche at the three reference customers and

Surface will also be made available through a distribution and development agreement with IGT (International Game Technology NYSE: IGT), a global company specializing in the design, development, manufacturing, distribution and sales of computerized gaming machines and systems products.

The basic problem is that while glitzy, the touch screen-like interface is severely limited in what it can do. Despite Microsoft CVP Tom Gibbons’ euphoric claim that “it’s as significant as the move from DOS [Disk Operating System] to GUI [Graphic User Interface],” the fact of the matter is that a good deal of what a normal personal computer is currently used for is not amenable to crude pseudo-physical manipulation. I thought the part in the video demo where “Hi” is scrawled on the back of a “postcard” in crude block letters and then sent off to Outlook running on the associated Vista PC was a telling example of the limitations. Outlook wasn’t set up or its address book populated by fingerpainting, and most adults have gotten beyond the “Hi” stage.

The net is that while Microsoft Surface is fine for preliterates or for a simplified UI in a kiosk, its utility stops there. The good news is that overheated hype aside, Microsoft is going after the right niche for it and not trying to pursue the consumer digital lifestyle context in which a precursor was displayed at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show among other places.

Update: Scott Fulton at BetaNews has an even worse digital lifestyle Microsoft Surface demo.



Filed under Conferences, D5, Microsoft, Microsoft Hardware, Microsoft Surface

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4 Responses to “Microsoft Surface: Bah, humbug!”

  1. Steve Ballmer does D5 -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] Mr. Ballmer did get to do the introductory demo for Microsoft Surface and later in the day opined that Microsoft would not build their own cell phone. Filed under Executives, Steve Ballmer, Conferences, Microsoft Hardware, General Business, Employee Retention, Microsoft, D5, Microsoft Surface [...]

  2. Steve Says:

    I work in a large company. Our offices feature rows and rows of cubicles. The idea of Surface brings to mind a building of people suddenly waving their arm madly like windmills in a wind storm.

    This strikes me as similar to voice recognition software. A feature that only appeals to people who watch Star Trek.

    Most of use use our computers as tools to accomplish work. We don’t want to talk to it or gesture at it.

  3. Snarking on Windows Surface -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] I’ve already said Microsoft Surface: Bah, humbug! but The Sarcastic Gamer voices some objections more graphically: [...]

  4. Gates and Ballmer reveal a little Windows 7 | Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] The applications shown seem to be PC versions (e.g. no bar coded foreign objects) of those demonstrated with Microsoft’s Surface table kiosk system (aka "Big assed table") which was demoed last year at D5. Touch screens have been around for Windows seemingly forever via third parties and while it may be useful for kiosk builders to have the support baked into Windows 7, it is hardly the kind of thing that will draw the crowds. Still, it makes a nice demo and that’s the point after all.   Filed under OS – Client, Conferences, Microsoft Hardware, Windows 7, Microsoft, Microsoft Surface, D6   [Permalink] [TrackBack] [...]

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