Take a Tech Break – Google Wave and Microsoft’s Project Natal

Two interesting bits of news from the tech world: Google Wave and Microsoft’s Project Natal.

Google Wave is the company’s attempt at redefining  email (which has been around for decades). What’s interesting about Wave is that it emphasises real-time discussion and collaboration, instead of the ‘send, receive’ transaction of ‘regular’ email. Also, it’s Internet browser based. The idea is you won’t need software to use it, just access to the Web.

The concept behind it is  that ‘if information is stored in one place, it can be manipulated more easily’. So for example, if I send you an email now, I write it on my computer, then I send it to yours. It gets downloaded to your computer. Once it’s there, I can’t access it.

But if I send you an email to a webmail account you have, the email isn’t stored on your computer, it’s on a server. If I’m then allowed to access the server, we can look at the same email at the same time – and edit at the same time too. So what was ‘I send it, you’ve got it’ becomes ‘I’ve sent it, we’ve both got it. Let’s work on it at the same time, editing, inserting graphs and photos, linking to maps and so on’.

Have a look at the Google Wave video and see if it impresses you. I think it’s got great potential, but let’s see how it develops. At 1hr 20m the video is longer than a lunch break, but you can still find out a lot even if you skip through.

Microsoft’s ‘Project Natal’ is their codename for a camera to be used with their Xbox 360 game console. It’s a video camera, like a webcam, that can detect movement but also depth and it also recognises faces and voices.

At the E3 videogame exposition in Los Angeles, Microsoft demonstrated how users can turn their Xbox 360 on just by standing in front of the camera (face recognition), how they could use a painting program and call out the colours they want to use (voice recognition) and also how they can punch and kick balls in a simple game (depth recognition).

Similarly, Microsoft claim that Natal will allow users to play downloaded films using voice recognition, or browse through a film catalogue using simple hand gestures. No remote control required.

At any rate, if this technology becomes successful, it’s not too much of a leap to imagine Microsoft pushing this kind of technology in their operating systems for home and business PCs.

Laptops that don’t need passwords or fingerprints to be secured, just the face and voice of the user. Warehouse systems where workers control remote, automated, forklift trucks with gesture recognition. Video conferencing or presentations where no-one’s struggling to replace the remote in the battery.

Even for small businesses, there could be real utility, a real chance for savings and more productivity by using this kind of technology. The future’s looking interesting


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