Looking back at Microsoft's vision of the future

We take a look back at some of Microsoft's predictions for the future and how many of these technologies are in our daily lives today. We start 25 years ago with Bill Gates' plans for the "Connected Office" and the "Information Highway" -- before the Internet was widely accessed.
By Eileen Brown, Contributor on
1 of 9 Oxkarrus / YouTube

1990 – Comdex

Bill Gates spoke at Comdex 1990 and introduced the future of the connected office. In this video Gates showcases email, embedded voicemail with audio and voice capability embedded into PCs. PBX integration is also introduced to enable point-to-point audio calls. Gates shows the first instance of embedding, which will morph into Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) with data access. He demos desktop search and search filtering. He also shows an early iteration of the preview pane and showcases handwriting, autocomplete, and gesture recognition.

A modem in the PC enables online ordering to be authorised by the buyer. Embedded video in emails, and customisable 3D images can be embedded in emails. He also introduces the concept of store catalogues (on CD) and a nascent Microsoft Encarta. Animations have sound files attached for more effect.

2 of 9 Andy Baio / YouTube

1994 - Bill Gates “Information Highway” futures vision

This video is a different format to subsequent videos. Here Bill Gates talks about what will happen in the office and home. He talks about: document sharing, multimedia, spread sheets, videos and graphs embedded in documents, "screen-based" phones for voicemail and email. He introduces printing management consoles, point-to-point fax, graphical list of voicemails, and faxing directly from the photocopier, He shows a personal desktop assistant with calendar, email and graphics, access to fast pay-per-view video streaming, online shopping and document collaboration, video conferences, interactive TV, multiplayer games, and collaborative virtual tours of buildings.

3 of 9 Mac History / YouTube

1994 - Information at your fingertips

Microsoft showed its vision of looking ten years into the future in this two part video from 1994 Comdex. Concepts introduced were: touch screen ordering, payments by mobile phone, two-way video web conferences in the car, biometric proximity recognition, customised TV channel viewing, interactive TV and remote PC operation. Cars were fitted with mapping and location services, and access to online information. Digital signage and streamed image transmission, voice recordings, and online access to stock levels. Peer-to-peer payments between mobile devices were showcased, as were online gaming and 3D rendering. It is Interesting to see that although full video communication was in use frequently, pagers, not phones were the primary way to get in touch with people.

4 of 9 Quanta8888 / YouTube

1999 - “Meet the family” futures vision

Microsoft's Meet the Family vision of the future added these technologies: Biometric logon, flight comparison websites, shared calendar views, embedded videoconference and chat windows in websites. Graphical email appeared on mobile devices. TV showed calendar alerts, RFID authentication, GPS mobile map downloads, Access to online information on mobile devices, friend's proximity location alerts, cloud based shared photos, Wi-Fi enabled digital picture frames. Voice activated digital assistants appeared with embedded videos in emails, digital payments, online music video, music, movie and radio streaming service. At work, customised newsfeeds appeared, in car voice controls, tablet PCs, and game avatar skinning.

5 of 9 Future of Health Technology / YouTube

2000 “Future of health” vision

The future of health video was a tongue in cheek look at how much we would rely on our smartphones and the cloud for access to every part of our lives. Concepts added to the mix in this video were: smartphone NFC cloud provisioning to rebuild mobile device, biometric authorisation, health details stored in the cloud, and online stock control.

6 of 9 Stéphane Peres /YouTube

2004 - Microsoft Windows home

In 2004 Microsoft introduced the concept of the Windows enabled home. It envisaged a home with: Intelligent TV's, PC wall projection, Wi-Fi throughout the home, cloud updates from the whole family, Media centre on the TV, and centrally located wall mounted tablet showing the alerts for the whole family.

7 of 9 Office Videos / YouTube

2009 Microsoft’s vision for productivity in the future

In the 2009 productivity futures video, Microsoft envisaged a world with: touch enabled glass, instantaneous translation between languages, smart surfaces, and collaboration across the cloud. It showed smart cards containing travel information, see through touch controlled surfaces, drag and dropping across different media formats. It enhanced sharing of location information, its voice activated digital assistant, and biometric access to projects. It introduced the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) with intelligent objects (cups /newspapers) talking to devices, smart home integration, and object recognition.

8 of 9 Smart Phone / YouTube

2010 Microsoft’s vision for productivity

In 2010, Microsoft's vision introduced Intelligent close vision displays (diving mask), underwater video streaming and instantaneous translation, gesture drawing underwater, 3D printing, gesture transmission across devices, folding flexible touch enabled screens, wearables with gesture control, NFC building access, smart displays that communicate with everyday objects, 3D holographic displays with gesture control.

9 of 9 Office Videos / YouTube

2011 - Microsoft’s “Productivity future”

The Productivity future video from Microsoft introduced: Virtual reality glasses, instantaneous language translator, 3D gestures, holographic display. Digital room key, intelligent video (donations), flexible tablets, annotated web pages, holographic curved screens, touch enabled desk, gesture recognition, intelligent handwriting controls, and intelligent, responsive surfaces.

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