A touch too much

Bill Gates was in town this week, promoting his usual message about education and economic development, and outlining his thoughts on the second digital decade

Tags: DesktopsMicrosoft CorporationMicrosoft SurfaceMulti-touch
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By  Mark Sutton Published  January 29, 2008

Bill Gates was in town this week, promoting his usual message about education and economic development, and outlining his thoughts on the second digital decade. While most of what he said was nothing new, the visit did give a chance for the first look in the Middle East at Microsoft Surface - or the Microsoft coffee table, as most commentators have dubbed it.

Surface is a device shaped pretty much like a coffee table (or one of those old table-sized video games) with an interactive, multi-touch screen. Touchscreen interfaces have been with us for a while, but Surface, like the iPhone, goes that bit further in allowing a lot more manipulation of the items that are shown on screen. 

Gates' demonstration focused on a retail solution that could be used to customize a snowboard. As well as being able to touch the tabletop to manipulate items, the tabletop include cameras that can recognize objects placed on the glass - the demo showed how the files on display could be transferred via Bluetooth to a mobile phone, just by placing the phone on the glass. Clever stuff.

Touch and other forms of what Microsoft describe as 'natural interfaces' really look like the way forward - and multi-touch present possibilities beyond even the computers in Star Trek: The Next Generation (the coolest computers ever in my opinion), but I have one minor problem with them - dirt.

A shared tabletop PC might be a great way to collaborate and to interact in a more natural fashion, until someone puts their can of cola on it. Or the cat walks across it with muddy feet. Or the person using it in the shop before you has been eating doughnuts. The thought of what might end up on the screen of a tablet PC used in a hospital makes me shudder...

After all, as any Douglas Adams fan will know, a whole race was wiped out by a  lack of telephone hygiene. I'm sure a whole industry will grow up around keeping touchscreens clean, but until then, I'm not sure I want to share. 

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