The future according to Microsoft

Microsoft has taken over a small corner of Chelsea to show how its software can be used in every part of our lives, so we took a trip to see it for ourselves

Whether it is working from home or working in the office, working on the move or working at home — and even playing at home if the time allows — Microsoft has the software for every aspect of life.

At least, that's the message the company hopes that hundreds of invited guests will take away from its Life² exhibition, which is running in Chelsea until February 2006.

Stationed in a one-time school, Life² has been set-up to reflect different scenarios including a factory that makes marine components, a café, and a home complete with living room, study and playroom.

The aim is to show how Microsoft products touch "every part of life", and to showcase the latest Microsoft applications plus those it is still developing. Visitors can walk through the exhibit and watch professional actors go through a series of scenarios. One shows how the boss of the marine components company deals with a last minute order. In another, a mother working from home firefights a cash problem with the charity she works for, while a third shows how children can put computers to good use in education and entertainment.

As Paul White, Microsoft's Business group lead in the UK explains: "These are all real situations that we have taken and transplanted here. The charity, for instance, is Gingerbread [a UK charity for single parents] and the systems and software here are the same as used in the charity. The marine engineering company is a real company too."

A woman sat at a blue desk with the words 'Marsh Marine' on the wall behind her

Welcome to the offices of Marsh Marine, a manufacturer of winches and the like for the boat-building business. No-one is allowed in until they have been cleared by the receptionist and her trusty tablet PC. Tablets are a Microsoft theme at Life².

A desk with an inordinate amount of computer kit on it

A lot of kit — another theme of Microsoft's world. The managing director's desk has a desktop PC, a Tablet PC and a mini-notebook PC, which is used on the shop floor for order processing and the like. That little object peeping out on the right is a PDA. And, to cap it all, when the boss popped into the stock room to pick up the component he wanted, he used another handheld device to do that. Desk space could be at a premium.

A man sat at a computer, with some sort of online collaboration software on the screen

But with the latest Microsoft software in place, the kit can do some neat things. Here the boss is conferencing online, talking with his chief engineer while they work out how to fit a component. (The boss's notes are in blue, his engineer's are in red.)

A man wearing a bluetooth headset pointing towards the open back of a hatchback car

The component is ready and in the van for delivery. The delivery man is set to go and, unlike his boss, can manage happily without too much equipment — just a smartphone and a wireless headset. Or so it first appears…..

A man sat using a notebook PC while sitting on a bright red sofa

…but before our delivery man can get on his way, he stops to have a quick chat with one of his kids and to do a little work, using a computer at this rather smart cafe. The hardware is never very far away in Microsoft's world.

Now a peek into Microsoft's home of the future.

You may not be able to afford as swanky a pad as Bill Gates, but technology can still enhance a more humble abode. That's the message in the Home section of Microsoft Life², where high-definition TVs and Xboxes jostled each other.

And in the twenty-first Century, the home is also the office. Today's businesswoman needs to be able to run a finance department, while the kids entertain themselves in their own high-tech den.

But there's one thing missing. Anyone see a trace of open source?

A modern open-plan living room and kitchen space

Forget this talk of smart refrigerators, Microsoft's lounge is traditional. There's not a computer to be seen.

A woman sat cross-legged next to a plasma television and other miscellaneous IT equipment

But look behind you. This is a TV to be proud of and a stack of separate boxes as well — including the latest Xbox (left of the TV). Microsoft is putting all of its weight behind the next generation of Media Player used with high-definition TV.
A picture of a plasma TV displaying a video recording

Is that Steve Ballmer explaining Microsoft's strategy to a customer? No, just Media Player and HDTV in action.

A child's area, with a media centre PC sat next to a bright red hat

And no child's life is complete without that ever-present computer, but here Microsoft are demonstrating some of the cool, fun things they can do while also stressing the work Microsoft has been doing to make using the Internet a safer place.

A woman sat at a computer, leaning in to touch a security device

Mum's home office where she can do her work as finance director of a charity is safe in the home, thanks to the small device under her hand that allows her to close off and lock her work systems in case the kids decide to go surfing.

A pair of billboards advertising Microsoft paraphernalia

Microsoft's latest advertising campaigns are aimed squarely at the message that Microsoft is Life².

The exterior of the red-brick building that holds Microsoft's demonstration kit

And after seeing all of this vision it's time to leave Microsoft's school — the building that houses Life² — and head for home. All we can wonder is why there was not a piece of open source software in sight. When asked about this, the representatives from Microsoft laughed, but would not otherwise comment.


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