Click on a file and drag it with your wireless mouse off the desktop, through the air, and onto the nearby laptop. Mumble something at your computer, smile and click on send – the whole show will be emailed to the intended recipient, wherever he or she is – be that in a car, on a plane, in the bath. Scribble on a whiteboard and see it appear on the tablet PCs of those watching.
Software giant Microsoft spends more than £3 billion a year on research and a lot of it goes into this kind of “office of the future” stuff. But only recently has Microsoft started actively showing its ideas and prototypes to outsiders. Now, it expects around 1,000 executives a month to visit its new ‘Center for Information Work’, located on its campus at Redmond, near Seattle. A European centre is expected to be set up eventually.
With the centre, Microsoft is doing what most of its rivals do – showcasing concepts. The marketing goal is to show that the company is ahead of the technology curve.
Even so, because it belongs to Microsoft, the Center has attracted debate and criticism. Clearly, one of the goals of the facility is to discredit frequent charges that Microsoft doesn’t innovate. But the main objective is to show potential defectors to the open source software camp – and those that complain about licence fees – what they might be missing if they move away.
Some visitors have complained, however, that not enough is being made of security issues – a top customer concern that Microsoft has promised to address. One Seattle reporter noted, for example: “One concept not addressed is the bugs, unnecessary or hidden features and overly complicated products Microsoft has already introduced.” There is no pleasing some people.