Fast Company

Microsoft TechFest 2009 Preview

techfest 2009I'm here in building 33 on the Microsoft campus today for TechFest 2009, where the company's R&D division demos the future of everything from touch input mobile devices to the integration of social tools with your e-mail inbox. Here are a few of the things I'm going to see demonstrated today and tomorrow.

Windows Azure and "Red Dog" Cloud Computing Project One over-arching theme that will underly many of the projects on display today is the upcoming Windows Azure cloud-computing push. This is Microsoft's attempt to move its operating off the desktop and into the cloud. Although it was officially unveiled several months ago, Microsoft is only now getting specific about the kinds of tools it will deliver in Azure.

SecondLight Surface Computing UI Based on the description I'm reading, it sounds like Microsoft is ready to move its touch-screen UI off of the tabletop and into the "mid-air above the display" where it will recognize Minority Report-style gestural navigation.

Color-Structured Image Search color pattern image search has been around since at least 2005. Microsoft seems to have made some advances here, allowing for more consistency, speed and a semantic structure that could be applied to other search types.

Social Desktop, Social E-Mail, and Location-Based Social Networking Never one to let another software company own a lucrative market (ahem, Facebook), Microsoft has several projects on tap that will utilize your social networks in novel ways. Among them: e-mail integrated social networking tools and GeoLife 2.0, which sounds a lot like Google Latitude.

Opinion Search Several companies are moving into search engine algorithms that incorporate opinion or emotion data into the results. Microsoft's Opinion Search will also filter results based on positive or negative polarity--again, not entirely new, but fascinating nevertheless.

Image-Centric and User-Interactions Advertising Platform Perhaps the first project on this list that could lead to real revenue, these two projects aim to replace today's keyword-driven ad model with ones based on the content of recently searched images and a more integrated presentation of the resulting ads.

Tool Kit for Visualizing Large-Scale Data Silverlight and Ajax controls to help navigate large volumes of structured data from multiple source may not sound sexy. But if done well, it's groundbreaking.

Augmented Reality 2009 buzzword alert! I'm not sure why everyone is tossing this old concept around so much lately, but Microsoft has at least two projects here that blend reality with computer interfaces. One is centered on 3D portable and virtual sticky notes.

Do these projects represent true innovation, or just more me-too computing? I aim to find out. Drop a note into the comments here if you'd like me to focus on anything in particular from the list above, or that you've heard about elsewhere.

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4 Comments

  • Kayla Moskowitz

    Can you focus more on the augmented reality and are there any proprietary MS technologies powering this at all that are being launched during the techfest?

  • Ori Inbar

    Not to belabor the point - augmented reality is close to reaching a tipping point this year: it stems from the ripened 10-year-long research
    and (a) powerful devices have become mobile, friendly, and affordable; (b) positioning and tracking algorithms have matured and run in real time; and most importantly (c) "digital natives" are swarming the marketplace and are eager to try new experiences that speak their language.
    See what I mean at http://www.gamesalfresco.com
    BTW I am featuring a video clip of the Microsoft AR app described above.

  • NoahRobischon

    @Noah: Great points. But with services like Google Latitude and Loopt, I'm beginning to think we're already augmenting reality in pretty significant ways--it just doesn't look the way we expected it to. No need for a fancy pair of Googles, just use your cellphone.

  • Noah Zerkin

    As to your last point, about Augmented Reality as a buzzword, I think that the answer ought to be somewhat obvious. Only now are the requisite technologies for real, practical, and integrated AR implementations becoming mature and inexpensive enough to entertain developing and exploiting it in the mainstream markets. We're talking about microdisplays, MEMs inertial sensors, and small/energy-sipping/powerful CPUs and GPUs, among others. It may be an "old concept", but that makes it no less exciting now that it's on the verge of realization.