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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 July 2007, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
Inside Microsoft's future kitchen
By Peter Price
BBC World Service's Digital Planet

The 'bubble board'
The 'bubble board" is designed to fit into the home
Computing giant Microsoft is centring its plans for future growth less on the office and more on getting consumer-friendly devices into every room in our homes - at least if the projects on display at the country's research centre in Cambridge are anything to go by.

A "kitchen" at the centre is full of a whole range of the company's new designs - and few of them are suited to the office environment.

Instead, the focus is on something that would not look out of place next to the fridge or the sofa.

"Microsoft projects have traditionally been orientated towards the office and the personal computer; this is looking at the role that technology has in how families communicate and organise themselves," the Centre's managing director Andrew Herbert told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

"[It's] a world where you don't think of technology as a computer and something geeky - it's got to be much more approachable, much more engaging.

"[It's about] getting in touch with the emotional side of computing."

Thinking differently

Rather than being packed with hi-tech equipment, a number of the things on display in the kitchen appear deceptively simple - such as what at first glance looks like a basic Post-It notepad and a pen.

But researcher Lorna Brown says it is actually the future of text messaging - the key being the graphics tablet underneath the Post-It pad.

Text-it notes
All the things in this space are meant to demonstrate how we can think differently about what the future might be
Richard Harper, senior researcher
"If I write on the pad, it recognises what I've written," she explains.

"Then I can gesture towards the name of someone I want to send it to, and it'll send the message to them."

Another device on display is the "bubble board" - a type of visual answering machine.

The prototype consists of a flat-screen display mounted within a wooden picture frame hanging on a wall - not much like a computer.

On it, pictures of friends bounce around - each one corresponding to a message left by that friend.

"All the things in this space are meant to demonstrate how we can think differently about what the future might be," explains Richard Harper, a senior researcher at the centre.

And Richard Banks, an interaction designer at the centre, added that, "when you look at most technology, it is designed first and foremost with the workplace in mind - and it's basically designed to focus on efficiency, allowing people to do things as quickly and efficiently as possible.

"Here at Cambridge, we don't really think that that's what homes are about. Often, homes are about inefficiency - you walk in your front door and you just want to kick back, watch some TV and relax. You're not in the same state of mind as you are in a workplace.

"So we've used this metaphor of the bubbles just to add a bit of delight for people - they bob around for people. It's deliberately designed to be playful and engaging, which is how we think a lot of homes should be."

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