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Surface Possibilities

By Steve Jones,

Surface ComputerWhile I was at the 2008 PASS Community Summit, I stayed in the Sheraton downtown. It's a great hotel with lots of amenities, but one of the more interesting ones was a series of Microsoft Surface Computers  in the lobby. They were available with a few basic applications, mostly photographs of Seattle and a Virtual Earth demonstration that was fun to use. I could quickly find my house and a few of us had fun flipping the Earth to our homes and zooming in with the our hands to find an overhead view of our residences.

However after a few minutes, I was done and not sure of how practical or how much I'd use a computer like this. I saw it used on the US election coverage on MSNBC and that was pretty interesting. Having the person presenting the information quickly flipping through data was interesting and I could see how much better presentations could be with the multi-touch interface.

I do think that more touch type interfaces can enhance computing, but only in some places. I see that doctors are interested in Surface, and in similar interactive situations, it can really help. In fact, my thoughts are the presentations are the most likely place that Surface computers make sense. When you have to quickly show people a bunch of information, and it might not be structured, being able to move quickly between objects on the screen makes sense.

I can definitely see how it could help in the Business Intelligence world, allowing analysts to quickly flip through information. However I'm not sure that it is that much more effective than a mouse and keyboard for a single user. Especially since most of us are used to those tools.

One thing I'm sure of, this isn't necessarily the best interface for IT people. Programmers, developers, DBAS, sadly my guess is we would be the last people to actually get one of these computers to actually use. We would get to develop on them, but I bet that this would be a shared computer for trying out things that you've actually built on another system.

I still have hope that one day I'll get my Iron Man computer, with the pop out keyboard on a screen and the ability to shift windows around on my 42" desktop. In the meantime, I'll keep dreaming and hoping these types of computers get popular.

Steve Jones


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