Longhorn to Get a Social-Networking Infusion
Microsoft has moved 10 of its social-computing experts from Microsoft Research onto its Windows user interface team. Will the ‘Aero’ interface be more interactive, as a result?
Social-networking technologies, including blogs, Wikis, and RSS, are likely to play a key part in the Longhorn "Aero" interface, based on a recent reorganization made by the Redmond software developer.
In late April, Microsoft quietly reassigned Lili Cheng, group manager of Microsoft Research’s social-computing group, to the Windows Shell interface team.
"I’m moving with a bunch of people — about 10 — from my research team," confirmed Cheng, whose new title will be "director of Windows user experience and research."
Cheng will be charged with managing the design, user research and user assistance teams within the existing Windows user experience unit. Cheng said that she and her team will "be working on Longhorn and beyond."Microsoft has been holding the details of its Longhorn’s user interface close to the vest, planning to show off its next-gen Windows interface at the Professional Developers Conference in September.
At the recent Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), Microsoft distributed to attendees an alpha build of Longhorn. But that build included little of the Aero interface. And the demos of Longhorn that Microsoft showed off at WinHEC gave little away, in terms of specifics Microsoft is planning around the new Longhorn interface. (Microsoft officials did say at WinHEC that Microsoft had officially axed the "Sidebar" from the Longhorn interface. Sidebar was a moveable task pane that was part of the early Longhorn Aero prototypes that Microsoft showed off in 2002. While there is a chance that Sidebar could resurface, Microsoft seems to be leaning away from the pane concept.)
Cheng and team will be heavily focused on "strategic prototyping and tools," she confirmed. Among these new tools is a Microsoft-Research-developed technology code-named "Tesla," a desktop search tool that enables users to browse data using a tagging classification system.
"Tesla looks at tagging and sharing and a query-oriented user model," Cheng told Microsoft Watch.
Microsoft Research has shown off Tesla privately to a number of third-party researchers and other interested parties.
Cheng is known as the main mover and shaker behind "Wallop," Microsoft’s Friendster-like social-networking prototype that combines blogging, Wiki and RSS technologies.
Cheng and her team also have worked on a number of related social-networking technologies, including Sapphire, technology for simplifying and unifying data storage/retrieval; Stacks, technology for organizing photos; Personal Map, technology for organizing contacts; and MS Connect and Point-to-Point, which show connections between people (via Active Directory), as well as between individuals and groups.
All of these projects look at how to make use of metadata and organize information around clusters, Cheng said.Cheng joined Microsoft Research in 1995, initially as a member of the Virtual Worlds group. Before Microsoft, she worked at Apple Computer in the human interface research group on projects that integrated digital-video technologies, such as QuickTime VR and QuickTime Conferencing.
Cheng and the social-computing group has been working with the Windows team for several years on prototyping future user-experience projects, Cheng said. The social-computing team included a mix of designers, developers and social psychologists focused on developing a "better understanding of the individual and better ways of communicating and sharing," Cheng said.
As a result of the reorg, Microsoft Research is reassigning some of Cheng’s former reports to a revamped social computing group under Marc Smith, the current head of the Microsoft Research community technologies team, according to Cheng.