Microsoft and the GatherReader e-reader: More on Microsoft's vision for reading

Microsoft and the GatherReader e-reader: More on Microsoft's vision for reading

Summary: There's more than one way to advance reading. Amazon has some ideas; Microsoft has some others in the 'active reading' space.


At its Kindle roll-out on September 6, Amazon executives talked up their latest ideas for advancing reading. Called "Immersion Reading," the new technology coming this fall with the newest Amazon tablets, will allow users to "fuse together" Kindle Books and audiobooks, allowing readers to listen to a spoken version of their text while they read.

Microsoft also is looking to advance reading, but is taking a different tack. As I blogged recently, the Microsoft Office team is working on "active reading" technology that could debut as a new Office app at some point in the future.


But that's not the only work around active reading happening at Microsoft. One of my readers pointed me to a white paper that Microsoft researchers presented earlier this year at CHI 2012 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

The paper, entitled "Informal Information Gathering Techniques for Active Reading," is authored by Ken Hinckley, Xiaojun Bi, Michel Pahud, and Microsoft natural-user-interface expert Bill Buxton. The topic is a "prototype e-reader" that uses both pen and multi-touch called GatherReader. (There's a floating visual clipboard that's part of the prototype called "the Pocket," too.)

The Microsoft Research prototype was built using Windows 7 using a Wacom 21" FS5 pen + touch display tablet.

Here's the authors' description of the prototype:

"GatherReader uses both pen and multi-touch interaction to support fluid transitions between reading and writing tasks. We contribute techniques for grabbing pieces of content, collecting entire pages, temporarily storing items in a floating visual clipboard known as the Pocket, reading sideby-side with writing, automatic two-way cross-referencing of notes with source material, and post-hoc interpretation of pen gestures. Such interactions afford a middle ground where content consumption and lightweight content creation feed into one another, a virtuous cycle where the user can browse, collect, aggregate, annotate, and of course read content using a combination of pen and touch inputs."

Update: Here's a video from Hinckley, one of the authors of the paper, showing GatherReader in action. (Thanks to @DaQuantumFro for the find.)

If all this sounds somewhat familiar, it should. Anyone remember the Microsoft Courier dual-screen prototype device that Microsoft axed before it ever went into production? The promotional video of that device showed users employing a pen, touch and a canvas that looked like OneNote on steriods to create new kinds of documents. The Moorea Office app -- which apparently slipped from Office 2013 -- supposedly will offer similar capabilities/concepts when and if it arrives.

 The paper acknowledges this is just an early prototype, and one that was tested very limitedly (with 11 knowledge workers). And, as I note whenever I write about Microsoft Research projects, there is no guarantee when or even if they eventually will be commercialized in whole and/or in part.

Could this someday figure into whatever Microsoft and Barnes & Noble are collaborating? Maybe... In any case, it's still worth noting there's more than one way to take reading to the next level....

Topics: Emerging Tech, Amazon, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Competing with Amazon

    If anyone wants to challenge Amazon on e-readers it should happen now. Otherwise, whatever they do, it is at best Zune.
  • Interesting, but...

    Ken Hinckley and Bill Buxton (and of course their teams) always seem to do such interesting work, but I don't know... has any of it ever made it to a shipping product?
  • Tact vs. Tack

    Microsoft is taking a different "tack", not a different "tact". It's a sailing term.

    • thanks

      typo fixed! MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
  • Notes

    Isn't it amazing that we have had pen computing for about a decade, but no one among Microsoft, Amazon, B&N, Apple, etc. seems to have bothered to create a digital book where you can do simple underlining and writing in the margins like you might with a physical book? Hopefully, that's not too far out. It can't be that hard to come up with that...
    • Digital Book Annotations and Searches

      The plus of a Digital Book, from the Basic PDF, is that I can search it for key words; however if I find those key words, I can't annotate those key words in a chapter, and I can't do the most basic of things with a manual, which is put in a little tab or tag. With some PDFs they are locked down so even with a PDF on a Laptop or desktop, its a major issue to get a section to copy out, and just send a copy out when I have a questions or have a quick answer when someone needs a quick answer. Books with CDs that have "bonus" PDF copies of the Book can help, but they are basically crippled since they are locked. And then there is the issue of a fiction book, if I want it autographed, can't get a digital copy autographed ... :-)
  • MS and vision?

    They only seem to have vision for seeing what others have done successfully and copying it, but much too late.
  • That's all you got? Pissing on parades?

    If that's all you have and you're only doing this to piss on someone's else parade, it's getting a bit old.

    The word Courier has become synonymous with Vapour, BS and pissing on someone's parade.
  • Cloud driven embedded objects

    The above sounds neat. However imagine objects like diagrams inserted into documents, that allow you do things like see a 3D representation of the human body; rotate and zoom in and out of it; filter out the different systems (e.g. the circulatory or digestive system); see how the different elements of the body function when the body does one or more functions such as breathing; allow for the introduction of anomalies and disease, and see how this affect the simulations, etc. The above would be one heck of a teaching and diagnostic tool. The zooming could go all the way down to the molecular level, and show organisms' DNA, and interactions taking place at that level. Now companies could make variations of this object, powered by cloud services, and license it to be distributed among e-books, learning software, diagnostic software, etc.

    I believe e-publications composed of embedded objects and services, will significantly advance reading. I believe there should be a disconnected, as well connected state for these objects, so that the e-publications can be consumed offline, and so that the objects will still be of value, if a supporting cloud service shuts down in the future. I think it would be great of MS creates authoring tools for these embedded objects, so that individual authors, all the way up to larger operations, can create relatively simple to very sophisticated objects, to bring life and value to e-publications.
    P. Douglas
  • Oh Goody, More Lawsuits

    No doubt all these companies have tried to sew up the Intellectual Property angle well and good, by patenting everything up the wazoo.

    Good luck bringing out actual products without ending up in court. Particularly if you bring out *successful* products...
  • The Courier in hiatus

    I can understand that with the software/ hardware available at the time, the Courier would have not been feasible at an afffordable price. With the Surface I think we are seeing the 1st steps towards the sort of integration that would make that project feasible. The Surface is a first step but the final product will be something that would work like the Courier. In any case I think it best to get on the Win8 platform as soon as possible to begin the learning curve.
  • GatherReader vs. Amazon audio book

    On Amazon adding audio to reading a book. this could become really annoying!
    I would think either/or would work better, with perhaps the option to say switch
    to audio while doing something else,like cooking dinner..and switching back to
    reading later.
  • Adding audio

    What use will this be? Most people comprehend the written word faster than speech. I trust we can retain the facility that suits us best.
  • Learning Curve

    The learning curve appears to be fairly steep. PhD candidates and their professors could benefit from it, and I can imagine CEOs wanting the software on their devices (as opposed to actually using it). But it does appear to be an improvement over what I can currently do on my three-year-old Kindle. What is wanted is speed and ease of use, like writing in the margins of a book or placing a Post-it note on a real page of paper. You want all of the conscious thought process to be about the text and your ideas, without thinking about the appliance.