Keep track of all the latest news and events on developer tools and technologies you care about
Dr. Neil Roodyn is a director of nsquared, a Microsoft Regional Director and is a Microsoft MVP for Surface. He’s been involved with Microsoft technologies since 1992 – and spent the 5 years prior to that working with IBM on AS400 and PC technologies. Dr. Neil has moved from very technical view of the world to a more experiential view of the world over the last 10 years. That started with the work he did with the tablet PC team in Redmond and thinking about the experience that could be created for Windows users. With IBM his project was how to make PC’s work with AS 400’s in a seamless way – there’s a theme emerging here! His latest book Developing for Microsoft surface introduces building Surface experiences to .NET developers. You can find out more from his website Roodyn.com
Dr. Neil and his team built a project which was shown at the keynote at TechEd Australia, demonstrating the seamless experience in action using Microsoft Surface, Windows Touch, Windows Phone and Kinect and I managed to grab some time with him to get into the nitty gritty of the project and the ideas behind it.
How did you come up with the idea of Seamless Computing?
Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time is to present how the breadth of Microsoft’s stack can work together across different devices. In many ways it’s not anything new… in the 1980's there were a bunch of visionary videos like Apple’s Knowledge Navigator, Microsoft produced a few in the early 1990’s and much more recently things like the Office envisaging video and the classic Corning video ‘A Day Made from Glass’ which showed visions of a future where all our devices are connected together – and also a lot of inspiration from Science Fiction. So for us it was something we’d always wanted to do, and targetted. For me it goes right back to the first personal computers I ever owned – I was in the lucky situation to have 2 Commodore PETS at the end of the 70's, but you couldn't connect them to each other, so that was something that needed to be solved with a soldering iron and bits of wires! I’ve always wanted everything to work together, my expectation is that stuff just works together and it’s in a digital form, it’s just ones and zeros that need to fly between each device and be translated, so it was really just a culmination of all those things. Essentially it shows what we can do right now with shipping technology – everything we do in the video is real, it’s solid product that you can build with SDK’s that are available right now. I guess it really just shows the possibilities of what you can do when you put your mind to it with the technologies available in the MS stack.
How difficult was it to integrate Surface, Touch, Phone and Kinect?
For a computer programmer it's not hard, it’s just networking. It’s energy, it takes time, it’s not something you can do in an afternoon, but it’s not a research project either, it's very real solid technology that you can build. We’re a small group of really good programmers, and we’re continuing to build it. How hard is it to do? Well it took me 40 years! It's combined knowledge, it’s all the things that you pick up as you go along.
How difficult is it for other developers to replicate this? What do you need to know?
All the SDK's are out there – you need to do a bit of your own invention on top of the SDK's, but the platform is there as a starting point, and it’s a really good starting point, and then you build on top of it. That’s always the case if you want to build an awesome experience for your customers - energy in = energy out is the basic rule. If you want to have a go at doing this, everything is out there for you to get started now, but it’s not something you'll do in an evening. To do it properly you need UX, designers and artists, to consider the aesthetic etc.
Have you tried integrating other technologies like the iPad/Blackberry and does it still work?
Yes we have - we have iPad integration and iPhone integration that we're working on. Again it's just programming. If you can develop on those platforms you can connect them together. It’s not the same code and interface but the protocol that we use to communicate between the devices is the same.
Is anyone using it? Who and how? What's been the feedback so far?
Yes - not necessarily in the exact form you can see in the video but in terms of our technologies, our framework for connecting devices together, yeah we have a number of customers. The majority of customers are in what we consider to be meeting room spaces - people that are integrating the technologies within their meeting room, their smart boards, their white boards, their projected screens, table top computers and hand held devices. We’re also doing some stuff with the emergency services in Australia – it’s a bit different from what we show in the video but it uses the same framework. .
Where are you going to take it next? (plans for the future)
The video we created is focussed on a very specific market – it’s an architectural company that wants to guide themselves and their customers through properties to make changes in a very visual and interactive way. But that’s just one vertical. There are hundreds of verticals this could fall into, from the emergency services, architectural systems, building management, even just manipulating docs, sales and marketing teams could be using this, all the way through to people that are running educational facilities, whether in physics or chemistry or biology, medicine. The opportunities are huge. The interesting thing to us is the framework that we provide – the customer always provides the content, so for the architectural example in the video, the customer is the one who has models of the properties, or for a business meeting space project we don’t bring in ready made PowerPoint decks, the customer brings the collateral. It's interesting to see how customers want to use it, we're in a great position where lots of customers are suggesting different uses, calling up saying ‘hey, have you ever thought of…’ and often we reply ‘hmmm actually that sounds great, we’d not thought of using the framework in that way’. For us the most important thing is the social engagement between human beings in that space - in many ways I feel like I’m not really delivering technology,but instead delivering communication enablement. We really want the technology to get out of the way, and that’s one of the reasons the seamless experience is attractive, because it almost feels like the technology gets out of the way. You don’t have to think ‘Oh, how do I get this file from my tablet to my table to my big screen' – we provide a tool that does just that, you don’t have to think about it. All technology should be seamless and innately intuitive.
If you could give one piece of advice to developers, what would it be?
Do lots of different things! Software development and general computer programming is so broad and the opportunities are so great, that you really only see the opportunities and you only really bring to fruition the visions and experiences if you have a breadth of knowledge across a stack of technology. If you’re ‘just’ a web developer you’re only ever going to be ‘just’ a web developer – you’ll be stuck in that niche. So travel as many roads as you can to get a broader vision of what you can achieve and the skills to make it happen. Personally, I don't focus on any one stack for very long, I'll drill right into it until I know everything I can find out about it and then I’ll move on to the next exciting thing.
Download the SDK's and have fun!
Surface looks great, but seems like it's been years since it was starting to be demo'd doing really cool things.
I've yet to see one in person, would love a chance to though.