This Week: Microsoft Challenges Several Technologies

Microsoft over the past week has announced several technologies that are aimed at placing them back on-par with the competition. First and foremost today is their Surfacing platform. The Surfacing Computing platform is Microsoft’s first multi-touch display solution. However, unlike the multi-touch display in Apple’s iPhone, Surfacing is aimed at table-top computing, turning anything from medical diagnostics, to coffee table tops into touch screens.

Surfacing also tees off with Shift, a technology aimed at offering gesture-based computing, similar to the human gestures used on Apple’s iPhone. Shift is currently in development for future Windows Mobile versions. By tapping and holding, users can then drag their finger to zoom and navigate around a page.

Finally, Microsoft added 3D model viewing to their Virtual Earth platform. The move, aimed at competing with Google Earth, matches the 3D modeling in Google’s competing application. However, Microsoft has built on that with overlaying those 3D models with aerial photography, providing realistic models with realistic graphics. Google Earth uses polygon models that are modeled after buildings, making it more difficult to perform such overlays. Google also allows users to contribute models, built with Google SketchUp.

In related news, Google has fired back at Microsoft’s Virtual Earth rollout with new updates to Google Maps. Google Maps can now offer users Street View panorama on-the-ground viewing of city streets. Currently in select cities, the maps were developed using a 360-degree camera atop a car as it drove around the city. Unlike Virtual Earth however, the panoramic views are AJAX-driven, meaning they require no web browser plugin to access. This is a major departure from previous panorama technologies, such as QuickTime VR, which require browser or downloadable plug-ins to enable.