November 8, 2007 2:53 PM PST

Bumps on the road to Microsoft's Surface

Although Microsoft is still getting plenty of "oohs" and "aahs" when it demos its Surface computer, the company is finding the task of bringing the tabletop computer to market a little rougher than it anticipated.

The software maker's initial plan was to get partners with the touch-screen machines up and running as early as this month. Now it estimates it will take until spring before the devices start showing up in locations like Sheraton hotels, Harrah's casinos, and T-Mobile retail locations.

Part of the holdup has been in developing the custom software each of those partners needs, as well as making sure the hardware is suited to their locations.

"What we have found out is this is not a one-size-fits-all solution," said Mark Bolger, a senior director in Microsoft's surface computing unit. Microsoft had already spent four years developing the product before going public this May.

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Video: Microsoft unveils touch-screen computing
Giant tabletop PC blends reality with virtual reality.

The product, originally code-named Milan, looks a bit like a 1980s sit-down Ms. Pac Man machine, but uses infrared cameras and a projector to create a touch-screen that can respond to multiple users' hand gestures, as well as interact with other objects.

Even as the short-term work proves a bit thorny, the company is growing more enthusiastic about the eventual market for its devices, Bolger said. Since the Surface's May unveiling, Microsoft has gotten more than 2,000 inquiries from companies in 50 countries and 25 different industries.

While it remains focused on its early launch partners, Microsoft hopes to broaden the product in short order to other companies and other industries.

It has yet to launch a public developer's kit, but it has set up a partner advisory council to get outside ideas on what markets might be most ripe. As a result of that feedback, it's speeding up plans to move into the government, education, and enterprise arenas, in addition to the current areas of focus--hospitality and retail, Bolger said.

The company has taken its Surface prototypes on the road a lot in the past six months, showing them to thousands of people in places like New York, Toronto, Boston, Paris, and Zurich. Microsoft plans to show off three of the units publicly on Saturday at the Sheraton in Boston.

"The response continues to be one of overwhelming excitement," Bolger said. "It's confirmation that this is a new category."

In a recent interview with CNET, Bill Gates spoke about the potential of surface computing to go far beyond the tabletop, once the costs come down. The initial units are expected to cost in the range of $5,000 to $10,000, but the company still hopes they will fall to a price affordable to consumers within three to five years. Longer term, Gates sees computers invading all manner of flat spaces.

"It can be in every desk," Gates said. "It can be in every table, it can be in every whiteboard, every mirror. Give us a 5- to 10-year time frame and we will wonder why our tables used to just sit there and not do anything for us."

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Biz as usual w/MS
"It can be in every desk," Gates said. "It can be in every table, it can be in every whiteboard, every mirror."

Not hardly...

I can't understand why MS insists on misrepresenting how 'Surface' works. This is not a 'touch' surface device. It relies on motion-detection and triangulation with the surface as the baseline. Object-detection/positioning...with your finger, nose, toe or cellphone all being nothing more.

With a minimum of 5 cameras below the 'tabletop', a certain minimum depth is required. The depth includes physical space for the cameras and the spatial distance needed to obtain near-100% triangulation that goes along with motion-detection - none of which can be applied or obtained with a typical mirror or whiteboard without building a container with sufficient depth. How does Bill expect to market a mirror that requires a wall that can support a 20" deep pocket...or is it supposed to stand out 20" from the wall?

'Surface' is doomed to go the way of 'Bob' - just watch.
Posted by kmtkr (20 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Early on...
Early on in the protypes it was determined by those "early launch" customers they wanted the tabletop to be 100% scratch proof, very bright, and a table. Obviously, even with a LCD screen (say 2 to 4 decent sized for a 6 person dinner table), you'd need a lot of power, up to 3 graphics cards, etc. A projector makes more sense in this setup as the higher the table, which for seating is probably 4', and in Surface's case 2, a single projector can fill that space with the brightness required. But then, you can't have a touch based projector (as you can with an LCD screen/plasma, or OLED screen).

The prototype that leaked for a whiteboard is similar to Activeboards method, but not a RF pen, but for a LCD touchscreen based system similar to HP's 22" touchscreen system, but much much larger.
Posted by timber2005 (720 comments )
Link Flag
dont look down at technology speed
What would surprise you is always the speed of technology. I don't see Gates said anything wrong. He is saying computer could be anywhere after 5 years, in every desk, whiteboard or even mirror. He is not limiting the talk on "Surface".

Look at iphone, does it require a big depth to support multitouch? No! Is there space for Surface to improve? Yes! This is just the first one in century to prove the concept. Watch more sci-fi movie/tv. Don't limit your mind. Everything is possible! We are human that makes impossible things to be possible. You will be surprised what things will have changed when you look back 10 years later.
Posted by willay1221 (2 comments )
Link Flag
Its a big ass table thats for sure.
Seems like MS is still researching, on what the table is actually
good for. The demo of having it in a restaurant was pretty neat,
and the wireless camera/infrared credit card detection was really
gung-ho, but thats about it. The touch drawing was just ok, it
can draw smiley faces really well.

But at the end of the day, what practical purpose does it serve?
You can't do any real world work on it, yet.

Seems like Microsoft misjudged the market with this product.
And it's partners & onlookers are more like the comforting
mother at a baseball game, congratulating them with "homerun
hit" enthusiasm. When all they've really done was grounded out
? bunting.

Besides the big time Casinos, and the Chuck E. Cheese's of the
world, its not really a consumer ready product. Or, for that
matter a product any industry can use yet. Thats why it's been
delayed till spring because they can't figure out how to conform
it to any and every companies business model (and or services)
without them having to serve individual businesses for any
glitches. And whats worst is they only have a few partners, really
deeming this a work-as-you go kind of project.

But its gimmicky at best. What Microsoft really needs to do is
stop focusing on what the future might look like, and leave that
to other companies. Their better at the copy cat game then
playing the pioneer. With this product, it seems their still stuck
in the heady- delusional Windows 95 era.

Points for Microsoft:

?Kill XP as soon as possible
?bring out VISTA service pack 1, 2 and 3
?And stop playing with that dam table toy
Posted by ServedUp (413 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE:Its a big ass table thats for sure.
Did you do any thinking before asking "what practical purpose does it serve? Are you actually that short-sighted?

The possibilies for this are end-less and the technology behind it could have numerous possibilies that don't have to be negated to simply being in a table. Did you ever watch Star Trek Next Generation and notice the similarities between the Microsoft Surface computer and the interactive controls used within that TV show?

If people listened to every idiot who said "what practical purpose does it serve" we'd still be traveling around on horse back, living in huts, and hunting for our own food.
Posted by viper396 (2032 comments )
Link Flag
Like Viper296 I think the possibilities are end-less. But the only "bump" to quote the post is the form factor. I think of the Microsoft surface like a really great R&D pet project but with no end-user real application. But, you need this step to achieve the end product that will really change everyday computing. If Microsoft conitnues with that form factor (meaning huge table designs, multiple cameras, etc..) i think this product will be doomed to be just a really cool demo. But even with that possible failure, the computing world would come out of it with a greath touch SDK and a good case study.

What we really need is a touchable Xerox E-paper with the MS Surface SDK. Now that would be a great product. You can apply the E-Paper to about any surface like walls and tabletops and use the knowledge of MS to bring together a great solution. Imagine getting up each morning to a new scenery in your room. Then you touch the closet door to get the latest forcast. E-paper doesn't need any power to sustain the image so the energy consumption would not be a problem. "I have a dream" - Dr King.

Another day, another post!
Posted by Dim_I_as_integer (1 comment )
Link Flag
MS has just discovered "not a one-size-fits-all" solution
Stop the Press!!

MS has had an epiphany. "one size does not fit all"

They really put a lot of (overpaid) thought into this, didn't they.
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Gates ponders why "tables don't do anything for us"
Well yeah, if you don't count food.

He's right though, and tables are only the first item. Chairs are
next. In a few years people will wonder why we sat on them.
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well yeah, if you don't count food. He's right though, and tables are
only the first item. Chairs are next. In a few years people will
wonder why we sat on them.

Or threw them
Posted by RCS (4 comments )
Link Flag
And we're supposed to be surprised??
MS has a history of delivering things late.

MS has a history of talking vaporware well in advance of delivery
to try and get people not to check out alternatives.

So, why are these 'partners' lining up for the big-ass table?

And why are they surprised that it's late?

And when are people going to stop allowing this type of
mediocrity to continue?
Posted by ppgreat (1128 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That sounds like such an uneducated comment. Don't you understand that, that's the nature of project management. Change the scope of the project and you should expect to change the timeline accordingly. Besides it's not just Microsoft that has to delay products every now and then. What about Apple's OSX Leopard, AMD's Quadcore and a host of other companies whom have had to at some point change the deadline.

I suggest that you take a course in project management and learn about the complexities of developing systems before making such brash comments.
Posted by maverick_nick (205 comments )
Link Flag
You got that right...
Microsoft flopped trying to push Windows Vista onto umpc's and even MID's when Vista is a resource hog. They also think that Handset makers has to conform to M$'s standards when it comes to shoving Windows Mobiles for phones. The result, it is those big and clunky phones and stupid applications that people don't want to use. Seriously, do you or I want to look a M$ spreadsheet on my phone? That's why apple was so successful, it was made from a designer's perspective, not from an engineer who wants useless features.
Posted by pugster (649 comments )
Reply Link Flag
do you or I want to look a M$ spreadsheet on my phone?
Some people may want a flashy device to listen to music and watch movies, but I want something that I can use to get my work done when I'm not at the office. My smartphone is not a tether, it is way for me to be mobile and work at the same time. if I didn't have that device I'd really be tethered, but it would be to my desk... not my phone. I like being able to work from home instead of ALWAYS being at the office. In order to do that... sometimes I need to be able to establish an RDP session to a server or open an Excel file. What is NOT usefull to me is the ability to watch a full length movie on a 3.5 in screen. Some of us prefer a device to telecommute, some of us prefer a device for fun. WHAT IS SO WRONG WITH PEOPLE WANTING DIFFERENT THINGS FROM DIFFERENT DEVICES? If you want to watch Pirates of the Caribbean, listen to Dave Matthews, and order Pizza from your phone... go get an IPhone. If you want to be able to connect to your Exchange mail, RD to a server for emergency maintenance, or open that stupid Excel file... get a PPC6800 with WinMo 6 Pro. There is such a thing as differences in the way to use devices. Someone please leave Microsoft ALONE. Contrary to popular belief, they DO make good products. They also make VERY BAD products... but the fact remains that even the infallible Apple makes BAD products. Let different companies fulfill different roles.
Posted by kmomrik (44 comments )
Link Flag
Wait for it...
Posted by jhoeforth (90 comments )
Reply Link Flag
not touch??
Do you touch it to make it work? If yes, it's touch.

Looks like a duck etc...
Posted by tgrenier (256 comments )
Reply Link Flag
To touch or not to touch
So those five infrared motion-sensing cameras sitting inside that big ass table are what you call 'touch sensors'...? Right, and my foot in your ass is a complement to your good nature :)

Putting your finger(s) at a specific location, whether you contact the table's glass (which contains no resistive material, layers, wires etc.) or not, triggers a reaction by the cameras and interpreted as X;Y coordinates. A position in space that may or may not be connected to a subsequent motion, etc., etc.

The facade involving an act of 'touch' is the limiter by which the user is controlled, and again, there is no interaction that is 'touch' specific nor dependent. Motion - yes.

Humorous - weak...sad, actually that anyone would need to bend such simple things in such an immature manner.

MS loves to re-write history, the truth and technical definitions* as a business model. This is due to a lack of not only imagination, but drive, spirit and simple decency. When you can't compete, change the rules to suit your shortcomings.

Nice of you to support them...hope they pay you well :)


Analog resistive touchscreens are composed of two flexible sheets coated with a resistive material and separated by an air gap or microdots. When contact is made to the surface of the touchscreen, the two sheets are pressed together, registering the precise location of the touch.

For example, during operation of a four-wire touchscreen, a uniform, unidirectional voltage gradient is applied to the first sheet. When the two sheets are pressed together, the second sheet measures the voltage as distance along the first sheet, providing the X coordinate. When this contact coordinate has been acquired, the uniform voltage gradient is applied to the second sheet to ascertain the Y coordinate. This operation occurs instantaneously, registering the exact touch location as contact is made.

Analog resistive touchscreens typically have high resolution (4096 x 4096 DPI or higher), providing accurate touch control. Because the touchscreen responds to pressure on its surface, contact can be made with a finger or any other pointing device.
Posted by kmtkr (20 comments )
Link Flag
Of course theres delays
Microsoft modifies their products to fit the needs of their partners. Each partner wants to customize it to their business. Compare to Apple's thinking of accept are hardware/software as is. Closed. That's why Vista was delayed and have driver issues, its with the hardware makers.
Posted by mailbox001 (68 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Apple Already Invented This
Its called an iPhone, but much smaller and fits in your pocket.
Posted by savagesteve13 (104 comments )
Link Flag
Problem is...
it defeats the purpose of a table by having to keep it clear to use it.
This is simply simply simply a dumb idea for a table. Think about
it...did those video games that were built into a table catch on? One
defeats the purpose of the other...
Posted by pugscanfly (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why a TABLE?
It would be a cool product if it was on a freaking WALL!

If your product hearks back to the days of Pac-Man, it will not be a successful one.
Posted by savagesteve13 (104 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Tables would be great for group work in K-12 classrooms
I'm a school psychologist, so when Microsoft announced the Surface, I saw that it could offer a multitude of possibilities for use in classrooms, school media centers, public libraries, museums, and other public spaces

Interactive touch-tables would be a great way to support group work and projects in K-12 classrooms. In my opinion, this would be more beneficial than providing each student with a laptop, and much better than a single interactive whiteboard stationed at the front of the classroom.


Historically, tables have been the place where people come together - in homes, and in the workplace, to communicate, to share information and ideas, to work on projects, and to collaborate.

Research conducted in school settings suggests that cooperative teaching and learning strategies can increase academic engagement, time-on-task, and positive social skills among students, if implemented appropriately. These are important skills for students to learn- skills that will provide them with tools they'll need later on in life. With a school drop-out rate of about 25-30 percent in the US, and higher in urban areas, something like the Surface might make a small difference.

Students and teachers would be provided with a great combination of creative ways to teach and learn in classrooms outfitted with a couple of Surface tables or similar interactive displays. Imagine what would happen next if you threw in a classroom set of Wi-Fi enabled multifunctional PDA's that students could also use outside of school!

A modification of the Surface would be consistent with the guidelines of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and the Universally Designed Classroom (UDC). Microsoft, or one of the many companies entering this market, might want to consider developing modified version of the Surface. If a touch-screen surface was mounted so that it could be adjusted like a drafting board, and was enabled to inter-operate with a variety of input devices, it would make it accessible to a wide range of students, including those with disabilities.

For more information about Universal Design for Learning, visit the CAST website at <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>.

Lynn Marentette
Posted by lynnvm (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Reality check
"If a touch-screen surface was mounted so that it could..."

1.) This has been suggested, explored and deployed for decades.

2.) Again, the MS big ass table does not use touch-screen technology.

If you are who you say you are, you'll need to look to another company, since MS isn't offering what you think. If you are not, then we've spotted yet another fake...paid by MS to promote MS, regardless of the facts. Don't you shills get tired of being so shameless?
Posted by kmtkr (20 comments )
Link Flag
Please check your statistics
"with a school drop-out rate of about 25-30 percent in the US, and higher in urban areas"

That rate hasn't exceeded 11% in the last several years. What other incorrect data are you imagining?

Percentage of high school dropouts (status dropouts) among persons 16 to 24 years old, by race/ethnicity: Selected years, 2002-2005
Year Total Race/ethnicity White Black Hispanic
2001 10.7 7.3 10.9 27.0
2002 10.5 6.5 11.3 25.7
2003 9.9 6.3 10.9 23.5
2004 10.3 6.8 11.8 23.8
2005 9.4 6.0 10.4 22.4
Posted by kmtkr (20 comments )
Link Flag
Interactive displays, maybe... home use? Probably not
I don't see the need or market for this. It has some neat ideas, but I don't see using my finger on a huge screen for doing graphic manipulation. I think it's a curious gimmick and could find itself in some bars, airports, or even some information kiosks, but beyond that the price and application of it just doesn't seem like something I can find a use for at this time.

This may change and the killer app may yet be developed that shows us how much we really need it. 20 years ago nobody would ever think we needed iPods and yet they are successful today. They made a market demand where there was none, so I can't really disclaim the potential entirely. I'd like to see this developed by Apple and Linux groups as well to see what can come out of the technology.

It better have pretty redundant protection though. Clean the screen with glass cleaner and find you just formatted your hard drive too. :)
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Reply Link Flag
surface display.
this display will be in future desktops and laptops, used like a mouse. however, MS should develop better software to compliment touch screen!
Posted by mtoc (58 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You guys are morons
Wow high end tech that just can't be simply applied to existing hardware having a hard time taking off? NO! You are kidding! I'm shocked I say, shocked!

Seriously this is just retarded. MS shows off a rushed proof of concept device that has been on the burner for a while but needed to be pushed to the front because Apple is starting to play with the same basic concepts, and MS didn't want to look like they were ripping off Apple; which by the way they aren't.

If anything its MS who has the correct strategy here. Snag the corp environment or in this case retail with this tech then go after the individual users once both the hardware and software are established. If you think Surface will stay only in a tablet format you are a moron fanboy. Expect this tech to miniaturize and become refined as it hits the market over the next 5 years. The key is to build API support for Surface into their Windows Mobile OS. Its horse and the cart, chicken and the egg time. MS need to work out a functional API for their phones, etc for this to ever take off in a big way. But for now. Get a few companies on board and work out the bugs which is exactly what this "delay" is. Think of these early companies jumping on this as alpha testers. Beta testing will probably come in 2009 long after Apple implements some cheesy version of Surface in some tablet or touch screen that everyone will say MS ripped off. Again Surface is not a quick and dirty tech that can be slapped into an existing piece of hardware. Its long term goal is to fundamentally change how we interact with our computer and getting to that point requires RFID's in a crap load of things we don't have them in right now. So 2 years for surface to surface? Sure. Why not. There is no rush.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS Right as Sludge
Apple is not 'playing' with the same concepts, they are
developing highly polished, practical &#38; popular devices with the
same concept. The fact is in 2 years time MS will not have
anything as functional as what Apple has in the iPhone. Windows
Mobile OS is a mess, not because it lacks touch but because it's
disorganized and unintuitive.

So, by your reckoning the 'correct' way to develop technology is
to create what corporations want, then cram it onto the
consumer, whereas Apple creates what end-users want, and lets
their demand force it upon business.
Posted by jmainmac (2 comments )
Link Flag

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