10 Microsoft research projects

A sneak peek at 10 technologies developed in Microsoft's R&D labs

Surface: It looks like an ordinary table, except for the object recognition and sophisticated software that allows multiple people to "control" their part of the interactive screen via touch.

Surface: It looks like an ordinary table, except for the object recognition and sophisticated software that allows multiple people to "control" their part of the interactive screen via touch.

Codename: LucidTouch

Ask anyone with big hands whether they like the Apple iPhone and you will likely get a resounding "No!" in response. The reason? The 2x3 inch screen requires fairly small fingers to control the interface. If your fingers are too big, you'll likely make frequent errors.

The Microsoft LucidTouch V2 technology seeks to solve this problem. It's one of those early research projects that seems like a head-scratcher at first: A device with a small 2x2 screen that's about the size of a thick credit card that allows you to reach behind the screen to make selections. A representation of your fingers shows up on screen. Your fingers can be shown smaller, or with a red dot that shows your fingertips.

"A touchscreen device is governed by the size of your fingers," says Baudisch, who studied human interfaces in Germany before coming to Microsoft. "If you look at home automation systems, they are targeted to a bigger screen size. We're asking: what happens in a few years when a touchscreen is embedded into a watch? It turns out that touchscreens don't do well at these sizes. Since it's difficult to make your fingers transparent, why not make the device transparent?"

The project reminded me of several products Nokia tried a few years ago in which a very small interface was embedded into a locket or other jewelry, but they were still difficult to use. LucidTouch could be used to power very small gaming devices or cell phones.

Codename: OSLO

In the early days of computing, a model -- such as a project organizational chart or the development plan for enterprise software -- was a static document built in Microsoft Excel. The problem: in modern software development, models need to become living documents that many people can access, including business analysts, executives, quality assurance testers and project managers.

The OSLO project, named after the city in Norway, is a framework that helps all contributors -- both technical and non-technical -- access data models in a repository.

"Modeling is something that Bill Gates has talked about as a future trend -- it plays an important role in the application life cycle," Kawasaki says.

One project that is part of that effort is OSLO. It contributes three things. One is a repository where you can change definitions of models from developers and architects all the way to data center mapping. Secondly, you need a way to describe the models, so OSLO has a new declarative language. Third, there are visual tools, especially for the non-technical user.

OSLO is like the SharePoint of application development modeling. It breaks out of the traditional app development process where models are used only during development workflows and helps any contributor see data models as they change and evolve. It also addresses the siloed approach so common in the modern development process.

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