Microsoft Surface in the Wild

By Nancy Gohring
Mon, October 27, 2008

IDG News Service —

Microsoft on Monday offered a software development kit for its tabletop computer to about 1,000 people at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, opening the door to a variety of new applications for the table.

Most people I talked to at two Seattle hotels that have Surface computers would probably agree that's a good thing.

The first one I stopped in, Hotel 1000, had a sleepy lobby, where just one person sat quietly reading a book at 11:30 a.m. on Monday. When I sat down to play around with the Surface, a hotel employee wandered by to comment on how cool it is and to say that it has limited apps now but that should change. She said it is quite popular with guests and that she tries to stop by when she sees people using it to make sure they've got the hang of it.

The Surface at Hotel 1000 had similar apps to those at the bigger and busier Sheraton, which has two Surface computers in its lobby, where a steady stream of people sat down to check them out. All the Surface tables I saw had three main applications: one with maps and area attractions, a photo collection and a music program.

The last app was a bit odd given that both lobbies had music piped in over speakers; I felt bad for people sitting nearby me in the Sheraton when I played a Johnny Cash song in competition with the house music.

The photo collection was also pretty lame. At the Sheraton, it included photographs of Sheraton hotels around the world. At Hotel 1000, it had photos of Seattle sites.

While visitors I talked to at the Sheraton thought the maps looked great and were easy to navigate, one wondered why he couldn't actually search for directions to a place nearby that he wanted to visit. You can only locate destinations from a short list of restaurants and stores that are in a prepopulated list.

That made Sherry Russ, a visitor from Evansville, Indiana, suspicious that the stores and restaurants are in the lists because they have some sort of deal with the hotels.

Russ, who like the others said the Surface was pretty cool, also thought it odd that she could find a list of nearby movie theaters and directions there, but couldn't view a list of what's playing and when.

Initially, she expected the entertainment item within the maps and attractions application to include games or some other form of entertainment, not simply a list of a couple of museums and parks nearby. I overheard another woman say to her companion that it'd be great if she could play solitaire on the table.

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