Ballmer said the next major area of innovation is a computer that recognizes you and understands what you want. That’s not forward thinking.
Sharon Pian Chan, the writer of a Microsoft-centric column for the Seattle Times, recently announced that her column would be killed and she would now take questions from the audience. In one column, she decided to predict the future of Microsoft in response to some query. I thought her response was rather odd. You may too.
Besides predicting more Windows branding and gravitation towards the almighty cloud, the tidbit that caught my eye was when she said:
I predict Microsoft will build more virtual reality, especially in the office. You will walk into your office and talk to your computer. The computing surface will extend across your desk and wall so you can open PowerPoints onto the wall and use your hands to move it around. Think of the movie “Minority Report.” The company has already started down this road by bringing its motion sensor Kinect to Windows.
First of all, this is not something a newspaper reporter (of any sort) would ever dream up, out of the blue. Second, did she ever see Minority Report? It envisions a horrible future.
So I was wondering about her prediction, and then I discover the genesis—a speech Ballmer gave to the Seattle Rotary Club, which Ms. Chan reported on.
The article she wrote about the speech is titled “Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer addresses critics who say he needs to go,” which seems a little harsh since it was just a speech to the local Rotary Club.
In his speech, Ballmer decided to brag about all the money he is making for Microsoft, but unlike his more carefully prepared industry speeches, Ballmer went off the reservation and discussed some interesting topics, including what it will take to get a pro basketball team back in Seattle. He had so many of the exact numbers and details about this topic that you have to know that someone was up to something.
Then came the real nut of her article insofar as the future of Microsoft is concerned. Based on Ballmer’s speech, she reported:
He identified the three most important areas of technology innovation as: the ability for computers to recognize you, the ability of computers to understand what you want and cloud computing.
“No. 1, your computer will learn to recognize you, your voice, your fingers,” he said. The ability to use our fingers on touchscreens was the start he said. “Oooh, I can touch it now too,” he said. “When I say it it sounds small but we all know how profound that is.” Microsoft built Kinect, a camera that senses motion and sound, for the Xbox video game console, and will be bringing it to Windows for use with computers.
“The second biggest thing I think is my computer will learn to understand me,” Ballmer said.
Now we know where Ms. Chan’s “prediction” came from. But more importantly, we now see a totally new direction for the company, and one that doesn’t generally come to mind when we think about Microsoft.
In fact, this is more or less the same bullcrap that IBM claimed it was doing back in the mid-1990s with its human-centric interface that never saw the light of day. And note, this idea of a computer that recognizes and talks to you came right out of the original Star Trek series from the 1960s. This is apparently what passes for vision and forward thinking at the company.
I have an idea. How about a background task that we can run on our machines that activates the speakers and says, “Computing…computing…computing” whenever we do anything on it.
This idea also sounds a lot like “Skippy” the rather screwball virtual assistant promoted by LSD-maven Timothy Leary back in the late 1980s.
What gets me about this new initiative—besides it being very cornball—is that just a few years back Ballmer was going on and on (to the point of raving) about how the future of Microsoft was advertising. If people want to complain about Ballmer, I think it should be because of his fickle focus. Exactly what was that advertising thing all about? I’m still baffled.
Copyright © 2010 Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc.