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Microsoft partners pack Surface demos; too bad it won’t do them any good

Microsoft Surface, the company’s prototype table computing device (that looks like a giant iPhone) caused quite a stir among Microsoft solution providers at its recent Worldwide Partner Conference debut.The thing—which allows direct manipulation of on-screen, er on tabletop icons—was demo’d most recently at last week’s Financial Analysts Meeting in Redmond, Wash., with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates working a video puzzle for the crowd.

One partner is smitten, foreseeing all sorts of real-world applications beyond the fun-and-gaming apps Microsoft has discussed.

For example, he sees it as a way for stranded airline passengers to re-route their flights. They slap their boarding pass on the surface, where the locator number is recognized and processed, and alternate routes planned, booked, seat assigned etc. etc.

Of course, that’s if Surface ships. And/or works. Remember, Gates and company have talked about “alternate user interfaces” since what seems to be the beginning of PC time. And what company has the coolest, most directly manipulatable (word?) device out there? Um, that would be Apple. The iPhone again.

Microsoft doesn’t help itself necessarily by hyping what’s not there yet. If you look at the Surface site here and click on “About Surface,” you might think you could drag yourself out to Best Buy to buy one this weekend.

“With Surface we can actually grab data with our hands, and actually move information between objects with natural gestures and touch.

Surface features a 30-inch tabletop display whose unique abilities allow for several people to work independently or simultaneously. All without using a keyboard or mouse.”

Sign me up. Whoops. Wait a sec. back to the site:

“Beginning at the end of this year (2007), consumers will be able to interact with Surface in hotels, restaurants, retail and public entertainment venues.”

Initial partners are Harrah’s, IGT, T-Mobile and Sheraton.

Everybody else, get in line.

Barbara Darrow is a Boston-area freelance journalist. She can be reached at

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