Windows 7 to take Surface mainstream?
Ikea-priced table computing
VSLive Could Windows 7 take Microsoft multi-touch mainstream? To an extent.
Surface - Microsoft's intriguing but pricey multi-touch-based input system - lets you build applications that can be rotated and touched. It lets you bind data such as pictures and order forms to code using XAML and accepts simultaneous inputs from up to 52 different contacts, recognizing objects placed on top of it. Surface is accessible to most because it's built on Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Windows Vista Service Pack 1.
Since it debuted last April, Surface has seen "hundreds" of deployments, with showcase customers including Harrah's, Sheraton, MSNBC, and AT&T. Surface has wowed people for the possibilities it creates as much as it has puzzled them on how and where to use it.
Surface comes at a considerable price, though. First, you'll need a Surface table, built by Microsoft and priced between $12,000 and $15,000. With the table comes the SDK, which is not available on MSDN - the usual source for Microsoft tools and code samples.
Step up Windows 7.
Widows 7 will let you touch and poke your way through applications because it includes APIs from Surface. Version 4.0 of the .NET Framework - which will underpin Visual Studio 2010 - will also get these APIs.
Speaking at the VSLive conference in San Francisco, Rob Levy, Surface SDK program manager, said: "You can use exactly the same concepts and code on multi-touch Windows 7 and on surface."
Among the Surface APIs going in Windows 7 are the manipulation and inertia processor APIs that simplify the task of building touch-screen inputs in to applications for use by multiple users while providing a consistent interface for partners to build against.
The manipulation and inertia processor APIs are the foundation for many of the controls that have made Surface so cool and compelling so far. These include ScatterView, a control that lets you put code in a program and attach things like images that the user can flip, drag, flick and enlarge. You can see a demonstration of ScatterView below.
Other controls that use the manipulation and inertia processor APIs are Surface's ScrollViewer, Slider, and Concierge map.
Life Not Death
Surface, meanwhile, will move to Windows 7 and off of Windows Vista SP 1 after Windows 7 ships. This raises a potential question mark over the need for separate products, and the prospect that Surface is subsumed into the Windows flagship.
Don't get overly excited, though. Levy said the swapping of APIs and move to Windows 7 doesn't mean Surface is dead or going away.
Instead, you'll see a base level of multi-touch that works across Surface and Windows 7, but there will be lots of unique features in Surface that won't appear in Windows 7.
One of these will be the ability to recognize an object when it's placed on the surface of, er, Surface. Windows 7 will run on PCs, laptops, and netbooks while Surface runs on Microsoft's table with a large, flat horizontal area that makes placing of object possible.
Objects are recognized by placing barcode-like byte and identity tags - capable of understanding billions of value - on their underside, which are read by tag APIs in Surface.
Windows 7 will see more touchability with bigger buttons, scroll-through lists, and icons - things common to most PC users but that are deliberately masked from the end-user tapping and dragging on Surface.
"Surface is optimized for specific things that Windows 7 isn't. Because we are a horizontal form factor means you can't do things you can do in vertical things," Levy told The Reg.
So it looks like it'll be Rococo-priced, all-in-one Surface tables for those with the cash and self-assembly and student furniture for everyone else.
Levy and Surface SDK team lead Doug Kramer, meanwhile, warned developers to avoid simply porting their existing applications to Surface or Windows 7.
They claimed you could convert an application written in WPF to Surface quite simply. It's a two-click process that involves working in XAML. Porting, though, will make for dull user experience. The challenge is to re-design an application that takes advantage of the new input methods, they said. ®