OPINION

Holy Crap: Microsoft Is Building Tomorrowland!

One of the movies I’m really looking forward to this month is Disney’s Tomorrowland. My first real job was at Disneyland, and I was so in love with the place I often would come back and work a second shift for free. Epcot, the city of tomorrow, was supposed to be Walt’s final legacy but his untimely death ended that vision. That city of tomorrow never came to be, except finally — at least in concept — in the Tomorrowland movie.

Imaginary Tomorrowland is an amazing place, where people go to create amazing things. At last week’s Microsoft Build, I saw what may be the core of building Tomorrowland — first virtually and eventually in reality.

I’ll share my thoughts about that and close with my product of the week: the laptop Microsoft gave to all of the Build attendees, the HP Specter 360. (Now that is a decent gift at an event).

Microsoft’s HoloLens

The product that most strongly suggests this idea of Microsoft building Tomorrowland is the HoloLens.

When you watch the trailer of the movie, you see a little girl pick up a pin and visually transfer herself to Tomorrowland — but she actually never moves. Only her perception changes. She sees and hears the amazing place, but she doesn’t really go there.

This is what HoloLens has the capability of doing, particularly as it advances and its internal displays are expanded to cover the entire field of view. With rather impressive down firing speakers and the ability to selectively or completely transform what you see, this product could potentially emulate what the magical Tomorrowland pin does with that little girl and translate you into a rendered Tomorrowland no less amazing than the one in the movie.

Nvidia’s DX12

The Build demo was an amazing showcase for Nvidia and DX12, but Microsoft showcased a level of gaming realism that was just a hair short of full photorealism. If you looked closely, you could tell the crying woman in the rendered scene wasn’t real, but the surrounding landscape and textures looked like film of an actual location.

Granted, to get this kind of performance it was necessary to light up a number of Nvidia’s strongest graphics cards — but this technology always advances, so that what currently takes several cards to do will, in a year or so, be part of the capability of a single card. Nvidia right now is putting its high-end graphics engine in its Shield tablet, set-top box and handheld gaming console.

So, while HoloLens could project this virtual reality image of Tomorrowland into your eyes, Nvidia’s graphics engine coupled with DX12 could make it look incredibly real.

Reactor Space

Tomorrowland is about putting amazing people into an amazing space where they can do amazing things. That is the under-covered Reactor Space project that Microsoft announced last Thursday. It represents a return to the firm’s roots, when it focused more on developers than on large companies, and was the great enabler of innovation.

Reactor Space, which will go on tour in 26 cities, is an effort to bring small developers together so they collectively can create amazing things. It is kind of a mini-mobile Tomorrowland that goes to where the developers are to enable the future of technology.

Intelligent Cloud

Small developers, even if placed together in a common space, need tools they can afford, and that are as powerful as their large-company counterparts. Much of Microsoft Build was about creating cloud-based development opportunities — particularly in the data analytics and learning machine space (think mini-AI) — so that the folks with the most will to be creative, the small firms that attend efforts like Reactor Space, can have capabilities similar to those of their larger counterparts.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s new CEO, is a huge believer in cloud services. I’m a big believer in the idea that companies like Microsoft must be led by executives who are expert in what the company does — so a company that serves developers should be led by one, and Nadella is a developer CEO.

As a result, Microsoft is fielding an ever-more-capable set of Azure-based cloud services, so that the little guy can subscribe to services capable of hosting machine learning systems and analytics — and having these capabilities as options, compete more effectively with larger counterparts.

Among the examples provided were a small farm able to use learning machines and analytics to double production, and a small firm that was able to use a similar capability to become very successful in electric grid management.

Wrapping Up

Creating realistic virtual reality and building a virtual Tomorrowland are just fragments of the possibilities that Microsoft showcased at Build last week. I wonder how long it will be until someone fully renders something like Tomorrowland for the HoloLens, and how long after that before someone else builds one in the real world? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

If you didn’t see the connection, one of the first uses for HoloLens is by architects and builders who will use it to craft the physical world of tomorrow.

At Microsoft Build, I saw a group of technologies that will bring the future to us virtually — and eventually enable it. Disney’s vision of Tomorrowland — “a place where people live a life they can’t find anyplace else in the world” — may live on in Microsoft technology.

Now that, for this ex-Disney employee, truly would be amazing.

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

Last week I reviewed the new Dell XPS 13, which I felt was a better match for the Windows user than the Apple MacBook ever can be. Wouldn’t you know it — right after that published, I got an HP Spectre 360, which is even closer to that new MacBook. You notice it most in the keyboard, mousepad, and physical design of the product, which is surprisingly elegant for an HP.

HP Spectre 360

HP Spectre 360

Like the XPS, the HP Spectre 360 is a product that is more capable than the MacBook. It has a core i5, not a core M processor, and it has a massive battery life, which unfortunately also makes it a hair larger and about half a pound heavier.

For my taste, the XPS is the better choice for a Windows user like me, as it’s better balanced, but someone drawn more to Apple’s design choices likely would prefer the HP. This shouldn’t be a surprise, given that Apple and HP are located very close to each other.

The HP Spectre 360 is yet another example of how drop-dead gorgeous this next generation of Windows Laptops is, and both it and the Dell XPS showcase why many will get Windows 10 on one.

As a result the HP Spectre 360 is my product of the week. (What I do find troubling, though, is the James Bond spelling, which stands for “Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion.” Maybe HP, like Jaguar, now thinks it is good to be bad?)

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends. You can connect with him on Google+.

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