Bill Gates Demos TouchWall - Like Surface for the Office

The 12th annual Microsoft CEO Summit was held May 13-15th. At this forum, business leaders meet up to discuss the most pressing issues affecting global business today. This year's topics included decoding financial markets, establishing cultures of execution, and exploring how the Internet will evolve over the next five years. The keynote speech was by Bill Gates. One of the highlights of the speech was when he demoed a brand-new piece of technology called the TouchWall.

He described the TouchWall as an "intelligent whiteboard." The screen that had been behind him showing a static image was actually the TouchWall itself, ready to be used. After discussing natural computer interfaces like touchscreen tablet PCs, Surface, and Microsoft RoundTable, he then walked up the TouchWall and touched it to begin the demo. Like Surface, the TouchWall uses scanning cameras, but here they are located at the bottom of the device.

Using finger gestures, like swooshes across the screen and other now common movements to expand and shrink items, he began zooming in and out on what was a big, multimedia laden document, of which the static image that had been there before was only a small part.

Gates then showed how you could zoom in on a Word document and flip through the pages, zoom out then back in on a Powerpoint presentation, then out again and back in to watch a video. It was a very similar looking experience as to what Silverlight's Deep Zoom functionality provides.

In addition to just moving the document on the screen and zooming in and out, you could also use a pen-like feature that lets you draw on the TouchWall with only your finger, something you could use to circle items for emphasis, for example.

Gates also said that the whiteboard was a "natural extension for Office," and that the hardware "wouldn't be that expensive." He hinted that not only was the Office group working on it.

This definitely has potential. I know at one of my previous jobs, we had a semi-intelligent whiteboard that would let you take pictures of what you had put up there, but thanks to a crappy driver and confusing software, no one ever really used it for anything but a traditional whiteboard. Instead, everyone just plugged in laptops to a projector and launched a PowerPoint. The TouchWall was so much more interactive and visually stimulating, but even better, it looked darn easy. You just touch it.

You can watch the video for yourself here. The TouchWall is at about 34:50.

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