Surface not innovative?

While working for Microsoft I’m getting used to the fact that there will always be a good deal of negative comments on everything we do – it’s just how it is. When we postpone our OS it’s a scandal, when the competition does it’s a smart move. When we announce something innovative, someone else has done it before because copying is what we do apparently.


After the announcement of Surface, the same happened. Although there was a really good buzz about this, the negative feedback poured in as well. Several arguments came in to show that this was no innovation at all, others had thought of this before and one of these arguments pointed out to the movie ‘The Island‘. In a certain scene you can see a sort of future office where one of the main characters uses a kind of interactive desk – surface computing really (you can see the clip below).

Since this movie dates already from 2005, it’s clear that Microsoft was it’s usual copycat again. But here’s the funny part: the ‘interactive table’ you see in ‘The Island’ is actually Microsoft’s Surface computer. Long Zheng who reported this on his blog also has an interview with someone on the production team talking about this. Great, isn’t it?

It really shouldn’t have that much of a surprise either really, as Microsoft was present with MSN and Xbox as well in that movie. Anyway the movie was from 2005, talking about something that happens in 2019 en here we are, 2 years later and the Surface is for sale ;)


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  1. Tom Raftery says:

    Kris – I’m a little disappointed at the “that’s just how it is” remark you make about people who make negative comments about Microsoft.

    I can understand how frustrating it is to be part of the company perpetually on the receiving end of negative comments and the surface example is a nice shot back but is it not the exception which proves the rule?

    Microsoft can be innovative (Silverlight is a good example) but it is not the norm.

    Microsoft gets negative comments because it has been a bad corporate citizen in the past, it still shows glimpses of that kind of thinking today and because it regularly ships shoddy software (Vista anyone?).

    Yes, Microsoft comes in for a lot of negative commentry but, for the most part, it deserves it.

  2. Kris Hoet says:

    Tom – I never meant that all comments should be positive nor that we never deserve any of the negative comments either. But I do believe we get less credit than we deserve sometimes and this Surface example was a nice example to illustrate that.

    With Surface, Silverlight, Popfly, Photosynth, … there are some recent examples of MS innovation for instance. And OneCare is an example where things could have been better from the start. I’m the last one to say that is not true so the negative feedback is in place there. But I still think we get more negative comments than we deserve.

  3. Michael says:

    I know you wouldn’t believe me, but I’m the one who talked to Long about it. It was nice to talk to him about it. I commented on his blog, he looked at my link, and he probaly saw this post:!1CA34B674D84900!189.entry

    Well, one thing led to another, and he gave me an interview and posted it on his site. It was great to get tons of traffic! I loved it when I saw it too. I didn’t care much about Microsoft when I saw it then, but it changed my mind about how Microsoft really can innovate. I’m even somewhat a Microsoft lover now. It’s just that people are used to seeing some of Microsoft’s problems, but aren’t too quick to look into what they are doing. I can’t blame them. Microsoft really does need to unleash something new and great, much more than just that one rare occasion. I love Surface and I think it’ll impact us in the near future.

  4. Tom’s right about corporate citizenry. But Kris is fairly typical of the way Microsoft fails to celebrate its achievements in a way that endears it to users. Instead, it dishes up defensive postures. On the Surface launch, the company made the mistake of claiming innovation in a way that sounded like invention when every man and his dog has seen the TED videos. What they should have done is concentrate on the innovation of their customers. That would have been worthy.

  5. Kris Hoet says:

    Hey Dennis – I didn’t think of my post as putting up defensive posture at all, on the contrary. I wouldn’t be working for Microsoft anymore if I thought this was the only approach we could have to things, to innovation. And Tom knows that we just don’t leave it like it is when people don’t show us the love we would like to get, he’s a good example of someone who’s quite critical on what we do (and that’s ok) and we’re having a conversation about this for a while already. We’ll see where that goes. ‘It’s just how it is’ doesn’t mean at all that I’ve given up, it describes an reality… for me, for now.

  6. Tom

    i take your point that we do need to get back on the front foot – that’s what the Blue Monster is all about. Telling better stories.

    I think it’s a little unfair on Kris though to say pull him up on the “that’s just how it is” remark and then say “for the most part” we deserve it. If you’re going to say things like that, and Vista is shoddy that’s fine – I’d just like to know why you think that so at least we stand a chance of changing your opinion and others.



  7. lukeh says:

    FYI, the Surface Team started developing the technology about 6-7 yrs ago, which drastically pre-dates your theory of copycat-ism. The issue is not the innovative ideas, its the technology barriers that exist. Those barriers are coming down rapidly which is creating a new set of problems around natural user interfaces and multi-touch interfaces in general. They’ve been around for 25+ years (check out for historical perspective), but are still considered immature due to lack of mass adoption (which thanks to the iphone and other devices this too is changing).

    Hollywood has always had great visions, but its all smoke and mirrors .. to actually innovate and implement this kind of technology does take a lot of effort and time.

    In the mean time, take a peek at some fun we recently had with our Surface table and a couple of bean bags – Razorfish – Table Toss Microsoft Surface Game

  8. Kris Hoet says:

    Thanks Luke – I actually already tweeted the tests you guys did at Razorfish a couple of days ago ;) Good stuff.

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