An Office on Every Surface

How Microsoft’s chief strategy officer views the future of our workspaces.

1. In a futuristic demo video that he showed in an internal sales meeting in 2009, Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research, and strategy officer imagined what work and life might look like a decade hence. The technologies showcased included massive touch screens connecting offices around the world, computer interfaces in tabletops, and mobile devices that receive data seamlessly.

2. Since then, mobile devices have surged in popularity, and companies including Cisco are sketching future offices based on them. Major companies are also embracing cloud computing, with Microsoft itself recently releasing Office 365, an online version of its productivity software.

3. In a time of such rapid change, Mundie recently described why his vision of data-driven spaces with interfaces built into every surface has essentially remained unchanged.

TR: What today is Microsoft’s vision of the future office?

Mundie: We will continue to see desktop computing. In fact, one of the things that I have predicted is that there will be a successor to the desktop, and I think it’s the room. There will be what I call a fixed computing environment, and it should evolve in quite dramatic ways to become a much richer and immersive experience.

We will see a lot more displays in the office, and they will be built into surfaces horizontally and also be on the walls or in the walls. I think that a kind of completely continuous model, where you are using speech, gesture, and touch in a more integrated way, will become more commonplace. There will be a subset of that fixed environment that you will want to take with you, called the portable office, and the evolution of the laptop will be that. And there will be a mobile environment, which is the phone and other devices [including] tablets of certain types.

TR: Tablets are big right now. Why don’t you see that as a key trend?

Mundie: It isn’t clear to me whether the tablet, in that exact form factor, will be a persistent thing or not. There may be other display technologies that people may look at over that longer horizon. Tablets will still be important over the next five to 10 years, but there are still things that they are not great at, particularly in this area of lifelike collaboration and interaction.

TR: So tablets and mobile devices become what, then?

Mundie: If you walk into an office and there is a big screen on the wall, and even if you have a tablet or a phone, you may decide to use them in conjunction with one another. Or the computing that is on your phone or tablet may project something on the large screen while you are there.

TR: And will we interact with these surfaces in the same way as today?

Mundie: While the graphical interface won’t disappear—as it will still be optimal for a number of detailed types of tasks—I do think that you will start to look to the computer to provide assistance at a much higher semantic level of tasks. Computers in many scenarios will present themselves to you in a personified way. You can see it happening with things like Avatar Kinect [Microsoft’s motion-capture gaming system for Xbox, which allows users to meet virtually with up to seven friends].