Microsoft is to start selling a new type of computer which resembles a small table, and with which users interact through a flat, touch-screen interface, the company has announced.
On Wednesday, the company revealed five-year old project "Milan," a computer that uses wireless autosync and touchscreen technology to allow users and devices to interact with files and applications using a flat, table-top screen.
The company designed and is branding the computer, as it did with consumer electronics products like the Xbox game console and Zune MP3 player.
To accompany Milan, Microsoft has renamed as Surface Computing a team within its Entertainment and Devices Division previously called New Consumer Products. General Manager Pete Thompson leads the group, which has worked quietly in new projects to give computers and other devices more human interfaces.
"The idea is how do we start to blur the lines between the digital world and the physical world," Thompson said. The team's projects have been hush-hush, which is why Microsoft revealed the true name of the group now. Milan is the group's first commercial product.
As demonstrated by Thompson and his team, Milan needs no wires to sync up with devices and users don't need a mouse to communicate with it. By placing hands on a 30-inch horizontal display, users can move around photos or videos, and even flip them over or display them from different angles.
Bluetooth-enabled devices such as mobile phones, wireless cameras and Microsoft's Zune also can communicate directly with Milan simply by being placed on the screen. Applications will automatically launch and open the correct file library - such as music or photos - depending on the device.
The prototype the company showed has a black body with a 30-inch horizontal display and stands 22 inches (55.88 cms) in height, 21 inches (53.34 cms) in depth and 42 inches (106.68 cms) in length. It runs a version of Windows Vista with the Microsoft Surface custom infrastructure that allows for the touchscreen and autosync capabilities, but the OS is transparent to end users.
Before introducing Milan to a broad consumer market, Microsoft is targeting market segments, such as leisure/entertainment, hospitality and retail environments. The product won't be offered in full production until next year, but Milan's first customers - Harrah's Entertainment, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and T-Mobile - should deploy the first computers by year's end.
Original reporting by Elizabeth Montalbano, IDG News Service.