The morning’s content began with a “Curse of D” video (speakers with subsequent business or life problems) and a few songs by the marvelously quirky Jill Sobule, a musician who played regularly at TED during the era of Richard Wurman (who's here at D, as are other uber-producers such as Demo's Chris Shipley and Andrew Zolli of PopTech).
The opening interview with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer offered few surprises. Ballmer talked about the company’s efforts to remain nimble and innovative, and its attempts to “grow two new muscles” – advertising and consumer electronics. He also made the unequivocal statement that within the next few years, “…all media will be delivered across IP networks. I think it will surprise people how quickly it happens.”
Ballmer then sat with Mossberg to demo a new Microsoft product that
will only be available through partners like hotel chains and casinos: Microsoft Surface.
As PR releases today attest, Surface is essentially a tabletop PC with
some new interface management software, using an enhanced version of
Windows Vista that lets users control applications using their hands.
Pictures can be sized and rotated with the touch of a hand, video
windows can be easily grown and shrunk, and virtual finger-painting is
done with, well, fingers.
According to the company, a “surface” has four characteristics: Direct interaction (e.g. finger painting), multi-touch (simultaneous inputs), multi-user (group finger painting), and the ability to recognize everyday objects (a paintbrush). Surface is “hardened”: You can stand on it, spill things on it, and still keep surfacing. It has several cameras built into it, for object recognition. And it’s wireless: Take your Bluetooth-compatible camera, place it on the table, and Surface will suck the pictures in and display them.
For Microsoft, Surface’s interface looks almost Apple-ish – for example, users can email pictures by simply dropping them into a postcard and tapping on a stamp picture. But watching a later AppleTV demo by Steve Jobs made the Microsoft look pale in memory. Apple is still the gold standard.