Before I tell you about Bill Gates’ speech at CEO Summit 2008 today, I’d like to share one more story from my trip to Orlando for STAR EAST last week. And then I’ll tie the two together.
In my May 10 post from the conference, I mentioned “Testing Dialogues—In the Executive Suite,” an extremely entertaining keynote speech by James Whittaker, a software architect at Microsoft. In part of his presentation was a Microsoft video shown at one of its employee meetings. It opens with a female runner that’s using a device to monitor her vitals as she jogs along a baron landscape.
At the same time, a man—presumably the woman’s doctor—is receiving the same health data on a screen in his office. He taps on a futuristic-looking wireless keyboard, and as the woman gets home her device alerts her to a message. She points the device toward a wall, which suddenly displays a live image of her doctor; he’s telling her something about the data he received during her jog. A full-wall display accompanies his consultation, plotting her health data in colorful, animated charts.
As video continues, it chronicles her visit to the doctor and the software’s complexity escalates. The medical building senses her presence, guiding her movements with floor arrows and wall signs. The rest of the story is not important. The point, Whittaker said, was the reaction of the audience of Microsoft employees as they took in the fantastic fairy tale. “When it ended, they sat perfectly silent—they were in awe,” he said. Except, that is, for a row of software testers in the back row giggling and shaking their heads. When asked why, they said “That stuff’s never gonna work.”
Not to throw a wet blanket on Microsoft’s TouchWall demo today, but remember the hoopla surrounding Surface—the company’s touch-based table computer introduced a year ago now? All I remember is a big splash followed by lots of nothing.
In his keynote speech today, Gates demonstrated the wall-mounted system and a 4x6-foot display running Vista and an application called Plex. The multi-touch system permits navigation by hand ala iPhone. Objects can be moved, scrolled, opened, closed and zoomed, and all with the touch of a hand. While all that’s really nice to look at, it’s also a bit too much like Tom Cruise in Minority Report: Too far in the future to care very much. And besides, “That stuff’s never gonna work.”