​Microsoft's HoloLens: Enterprise boon or boondoggle?

Microsoft took the plunge into holographic computing and has all the hooks built in to ensure the technology will at least be tried in the enterprise.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Microsoft's big push into holographic mixed reality computing tied into Windows 10 spurs the imagination, but is likely to move into the enterprise as well as a bunch of verticals.

The software giant's Windows 10 powwow in Redmond on Wednesday had a little something---Cortana, universal apps, collaboration and cloud tools such as Surface Hub and bridges between devices---but the real kicker was Microsoft's holographic ambitions. The company demonstrated HoloLens, outlined HoloStudio for developers and noted that Windows 10 will have all the pieces needed for holographic apps.

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That heady move caught most observers by surprise. In Microsoft's view everything from Skype to Minecraft to Office could be holographic friendly.

Welcome to Windows with holograms (pictures)

While a lot of the HoloLens walkthrough was for consumers, there were a lot of areas that were clearly business focused. In fact, the Windows 10 event was supposed to be more consumer, but most of the features outlined applied to the enterprise. There's a good reason for that: Windows 10 has to get the enterprise on board since companies are on Windows 7 and basically shunning Windows 8.

It's not a surprise that Microsoft's HoloLens demonstration highlighted motorcycle design, NASA collaborations and training. At the event in Redmond, Microsoft was pushing the business uses of HoloLens hard. Ed Bott, who was on scene, said enterprise development should be straightforward at least in theory.

Developing for the HoloLens is in theory just a matter of using some new APIs in your existing Windows app development toolset. So it shouldn't require any extra skills, just a vision of how you want to use the "gaze, gesture, and voice" capabilities that the new hardware brings to apps. The resulting apps are Windows Universal apps.

My experience with the Skype app was straightforward: The person on the other end of the call could see what I was seeing and mark up my field of vision, circling a thing I needed to pay attention to, and drawing a diagram of where I needed to make something happen.

So if you're a CIO what do you do with this holographic happy Microsoft? For starters, consider adding the HoloLens and HoloStudio to the labs to see what the business case could be. Since it'll be hooked into Windows 10, the holographic efforts may be easily added to your evaluation.

Some of the holographic items to ponder:

  • Productivity possibilities. Forrester analyst J. P. Gownder sees HoloLens as a mixed reality term that can revamp collaboration in the workplace. Virtual reality simulations, effects and allowing employees to mark up drawings and reference designs could be very powerful. Everything from Skype to meetings could be revamped.

  • Uses beyond virtual reality. HoloLens looks like a virtual reality headset just like Oculus Rift, but can input data and function more like a computer. Gownder noted that HoloLens tops the performance of the augmented reality glasses used in the enterprise today.

  • Collaboration and productivity improvements. HoloLens could provide new ways to approach collaboration, presence and training. There are real returns if HoloLens can improve on those functions.

  • Customer experiences. While a CIO would think productivity, many chief marketing officers are likely to see HoloLens as an engagement tool. Various industries could use Microsoft's technology to entertain, inform and engage in various activities. Since HoloLens would be hooked into Windows 10 it's not a stretch to see marketing data plugged into the enterprise environment.

  • Industry specific use cases. Forrester analyst James McQuivey sees holographic computing affecting various industries. For instance, retail could easily use holographic computing as a virtual dressing room. There are many efforts going in that direction anyway. Travel could use HoloLens as an entertainment device and home improvement chains such as Lowe's and Home Depot could help do-it-yourselfer complete projects.

Simply put, Microsoft's holographic efforts could be a boon to the enterprise. The catch? Microsoft historically doesn't nail it with the first version of anything. HoloLens and HoloStudio (not to mention Windows 10) may not be ready for business use right out of the gate. Should you jump the holographic computing gun it's likely you'll find yourself in the land of boondoggles. But by all means do the holographic homework. Microsoft's future iterations of HoloLens are likely to be adopted in the enterprise.

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