September 26, 2002 11:44 AM PDT

Microsoft explores office of the future

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Microsoft on Thursday opened its Center For Information Work, a laboratory that will let technicians and other researchers explore ways to improve life at the office.

The center, located in Redmond, Wash., will match people with technological prototypes that are still five or so years away from becoming products and see what works.

For example, the company is currently tinkering with RingCam, a video camera that captures a 360-degree view of a room. Potential applications include a videoconferencing situation where several people seated around a table need to be featured on the screen, a Microsoft representative said.

Another experimental prototype is BroadBench, a giant, semicircular LCD display that features three independent viewing regions. By using all three screens, users can read e-mail, annotate documents and place bets at online gaming sites at the same time. Researchers will try to determine whether productivity and problem solving change in multimonitor environments.

While both of these projects remain in the experimental stage, Microsoft is also showing off its Tablet PC operating system at the center. Tablet PC lets computer users control their machines with a penlike device instead of a mouse and keyboard. It hits the market Nov. 7.

Intel, Acer and Sony's Business Solutions and Systems company are all participating in the Center for Information Work project by providing prototypes of future plasma screens, PCs and other devices.

"Sony is demonstrating how our forward-looking network projectors, plasma monitors and flat-panel computer monitors--offered today--can...improve work flow and productivity," said Tom Mykietyn, senior national marketing manager for Sony Electronics' Business Solutions and Systems.

Approximately 1,000 customers will visit the center annually, according to Microsoft.


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