Tuesday, 29 May, 2007 Technology

Microsoft Surface - Innovative Table-Like Computer


One of Microsoft's biggest projects resembles a normal coffee table. Switch it on and you will get a computer working without a traditional mouse and keyboard. A few people may sit on different sides of the table and use the computer simultaneously.

Science-fiction-like machine called Microsoft Surface will be unveiled today at a Wall Street Journal conference. The computer features the hard acrylic tabletop that serves as a high-resolution display. It is able to recognize items put on the surface by their shape or with help of special codes affixed to them. The user needs one's hands instead of a keyboard and mouse to touch and move virtual objects on the screen.

The surface of the tabletop is not touch-sensitive. There are special cameras inside the table that 'notice' that the user puts or drags a finger, hand or just any other item on or across the screen. A projector inside the machine lights the tabletop screen from beneath.

As for the size, Microsoft Surface is 22 inches high, 21 inches deep, and 42 inches wide. It displays a 30-inch screen. The components of the machine, including a hard drive and a 1 GHz computer processor, are inside the table. The computer uses a custom software interface on top of Windows Vista. It provides wired Ethernet, Bluetooth wireless and integrated Wi-Fi.

One of initial buyers, T-Mobile, is going to supply its stores with the Microsoft machines. The Surface computer will recognize a phone placed on the tabletop. It will provide the phone's characteristics and a price list. Customers will be able to drag icons that represent parts of a service plan onto the phone. Then they will send the virtual package to be registered for purchase. Harrah's Entertainment and Starwood Hotels and Resorts are also planning to use Microsoft Surface. Visitors of a restaurant, for example, will be able to split a tab in no time – they will drag icons of their meals to their credit cards.

Starwood explores the possibilities of using the computers for photo sharing, music play-list browsing, food and beverage ordering, games and game-related activities, and as a 'virtual concierge'. Harrah's wants to use the Surface tables to let people access maps of its different properties, find out the details about events and venues, as well as create their personal itineraries.

Price will be a significant obstacle for Microsoft Surface to overcome if it is aimed to reach mainstream consumers. It will be available in the range of $5,000 - $10,000 per unit. Microsoft forecasts that its Surface machine will conquer the broader consumer market in three or more years time.

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