Live Labs, led by Gary Flake (check out our interview with Gary here), is one of the more interesting teams at Microsoft. They're also responsible for PhotoSynth, a sort of Google Street View taken to the next level—it stitches together user-generated photos seamlessly to create a 3D tour of an area.
PivotViewer is a key development for Microsoft Silverlight, a Web app framework similar to Adobe Flash. PivotViewer, when it was announced by Flake at a TED conference in February, brought the house down. It's a new visualized data tool, taking huge swathes of information and metadata and presenting them in a way that lets the user easily categorize, order, prioritize, and visualize it. A member of the Live Labs team calls it "a sort of undirected search," in which you're "swimming through content."
It's one of those tools that's hard to understand through description, but fairly easy in practice. It has uses in both consumer and enterprise situations, though—for example, while shopping for, say, a new camera, you might have 10 tabs open at once in your browser. You might have CNet open for reviews, Gizmodo for news on upcoming releases, a few different Amazon pages for browsing, and a digital photography forum for a more in-depth opinion, all in separate tabs. That's not very organized or easy to use, for a pretty simple task: Which camera should I buy?
PivotViewer allows you to instead compare a bunch of different cameras visually. You can order them by megapixel count, or by price, or by review rating. Instead of switching back and forth between static tabs, you can just see them, all laid out. PivotViewer windows can even be embedded in Web sites.
The project will keep developing; Microsoft is encouraging developers, designers, and publishers to use and embed PivotViewer, which could well decide its success or failure. If nobody uses it, the system will be much less effective. The first partner is Hitched, a U.K. wedding planner site.
You can download PivotViewer today, for free.