A Glimpse Into Microsoft’s Future

4 minute read
| Particle Debris

Microsoft is a changed company under CEO Satya Nadella. We’re not the first ones to notice. This change has manifested itself in several ways, most notably the willingness to provide solutions on whatever platform the customer wants to work with. More exciting, however, is how people interact with their computers. This week, I look at an article that reveals Microsoft’s important new thinking about the human-machine interface.

Future Internet

Future interfaces will combine 2D, 3D, VR, AR, AI and more. Which companies will nail the UI?

This week, right after I heard about Microsoft bringing Visual Studio to macOS, another article came to my attention that introduces what Microsoft calls “Fluent Design.”

The article is: “Behind Fluent Design, Microsoft’s Vision For The Future of Interfaces.” Bojana Ostojic, Microsoft’s Principal Director of Design…

explains that HoloLens was the inspiration for Fluent Design, a set of design guidelines the company introduced at its Build 2017 conference. It’s a loosely defined and still-evolving set of best practices for designing across mobile, desktop, voice, gesture, AI, VR, and holographic interfaces

At the core of this, I surmise, is the recognition that users will soon be immersed in several different kinds of user interfaces: The standard 2D display, 3D/holographics, VR and AR. The question is, what kind of user interface guidelines should be developed as users cross the boundaries of these devices. Fluent Design is a:

loosely defined and still-evolving set of best practices for designing across mobile, desktop, voice, gesture, AI, VR, and holographic interfaces, a necessarily broad language of interactions, animations, and visuals that may be updated frequently.

Why is this necessary? The motivation is that, according to the author, Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, no company has yet “figured out how to integrate the old world of 2D devices with the new world of 3D or mixed reality hardware.” 

The new metaphor derives from the fact that modern interfaces tend to be more fluid and short-lived. In the past, our Mac’s display was fairly static, and action has been constrained to a few small windows. With new interfaces, moving, fluid representations of reality are presented. More to the point, how does one invoke design, structure, light and other visuals to bridge the gap across interfaces?

The author points out that new combinations of skills as a developer will be required. “Creating a holographic version of reality requires you to be part architect, part cinematographer, and part developer.”

This is an informative and inspiring article about how a re-born Microsoft is thinking these days.

Next Page: The News Debris For The Week Of May 8th. The need for speed.

6 Comments Add a comment

  1. NEALC5

    Whether you like Microsoft or not, this proves that Apple has “won”. Steve Jobs was right. Technological “design” is just as important as the function. It didn’t seem that way in the early 1990’s, but now, everyone expects their computers and software to look as good as they function.

    This is to everyone’s benefit, and it was Apple, Steve Jobs and Jony Ive who should get most of the credit.

  2. aardman

    It seems to me that most people, both laymen and experts, base (perhaps unconsciously) their predictions and prognostications about future devices on what Hollywood has envisioned in movies and television. So with home snoops/busybodies like Echo we probably have HAL and the Star Trek starship computer in mind. With gesture and holographic interface, Minority Report is the touchstone for most people. We have to remember one thing though, this is Hollywood imagining and their speculative portrayal of these technologies is skewed by the requirement to make it visually and aurally entertaining to the viewing audience. When Captain Picard talks to the onboard computer, the conversation has to be completely fluent and accessible to us, the audience watching the show. When Tom Cruise gestures in Minority Report, the director not surprisingly wants a visually appealing shot with large, crisp, screen-filling arm movements.

    In real life though, will people really want to talk out loud to a cylinder? Do they want their ‘conversation’ with Alexa or Siri to be audible to everyone else in the room? Will they want these snoops to be on standby 24-7 listening to every word said in the house (and relaying it to Messrs Brin, Page, Bezos and Zuckerberg)?

    How about gesture and holographic interfaces? Who will want to swing their arms about every time they need to work on the computer? In truth, don’t people want to be as economical as possible with their input gestures? Fingers only please, and as much as possible with the shortest strokes that I can get away with. And 3D images/icons floating in air in what can only be described as a patternless jumble. How does that make working on a computer easier? Isn’t the point of a computer to organize and systematize information so that it is easier to process and comprehend? Why is ‘ephemeral’ an adjective that anyone would want to associate with making information better organized and more accessible? I don’t want ephemeral, I want clear and concrete.

    Of course this is the Hollywood influence coming on in a full-throated roar when the designers want to impress us with their gee-whiz demos and simulations. In reality, after about 10 minutes when the novelty wears off, interfaces need to be as unobtrusive as possible, perhaps they need to be pleasant but they definitely need to get out of the way.

  3. brilor

    @aardman: Agreed and thank for sharing those well-considered thoughts. IMO, Apple’s Mac UI has lost some of its simplicity and usefulness by hiding/obfuscating UI elements. Despite contrary statements by Apple executives, this feels like the groundwork for merging at least iOS and macOS, and such an overall goal might not allow the best user UI choices. Managing other UI bases ( like AR, 3-D etc. ) will be very challenging particularly when it needs to be accessible and simple. I’m hoping Apple will review and improve its 2D interfaces before merging them with others.

  4. aardman

    Thanks John. Those kind words coming from you, who I consider to be one of the two most insightful tech writers, I take as validation and high praise.

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