Bill Gates was always fascinated with the evolution of the ways that humans and machines could interact. At his last CES keynote in 2007, he spoke of the "connections" that were missing and that would be enabled, in part, through Microsoft's new operating system, Vista. And in his official announcement of his retirement from Microsoft, he said, "methods that are more natural for human beings, such as pens, voices and faces, for example, will be used instead of keyboards and mice." Not so very profound, perhaps, but still an accurate prediction of changes in methods of interaction that can produce better comfort and more efficiency for some tasks, and maybe return some of the intuitive actions to working with machines that have been lost along the way. He didn't say we wouldn't use mice anymore, he just said we'd have more choices.
One of Microsoft's latest investments, in N-trig, gets the company closer to the development of touch-screen and multi-touch technology. N-trig has seen its touch-screen input tech go into the HP TouchSmart tx2 and the Dell Latitude XT; it says it is working with a variety of OEMs on future products. Along with Windows 7, which supports touch-screen technology, Microsoft's $24 investment in the company does move Redmond a bit closer to that Gates vision, but not that far along -- it's only 24 mil, after all.
While ChannelWeb reports that N-trig's CEO said, "The mouse, I think, is gone," I think we can all agree that that is what the CEO of a company that develops and markets touch-screen technology would say, when interviewed. The same article notes that a Microsoft Windows group senior vice president, Bill Veghte, said that touch doesn't replace other input devices because it isn't appropriate for every task. Even so, some seemingly touchy (pun intended) reactions indicate that users, many of them members of the same youthful generation that embraced the touch-screen features in the iPhone, iTouch and various other devices -- for actions that are more convenient and enjoyable with a touch screen -- are worried that Microsoft will try to force them to surrender their mice entirely. The rejection of the idea of broader access to touch or multi-touch features in laptops, PCs and netbooks alongside keyboards and mice seems peculiar and surprising, especially from young, tech-savvy users, but on the bright side, at least this not so young user can say Bill Gates and I have a lot in common.