What is it with Microsoft and the letter X, really? Between the Xbox and the X07 event (which has been cancelled and become the titular Xmas Showcase), Microsoft seems hell bent on using the letter in practically everything it does.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t soon see Microsoft Office 2007: Xtreme Edition.
But I digress. I’m not here on your interwebs to talk about Bill Gates’ peculiar fascination with the 24th letter of the alphabet, odd though it is. Instead, I’m here to talk about one half of the double-whammy of Microsoft events I attended on Thursday; the Microsoft Hardware Day and Xbox Xmas Showcase.
Thankfully for me, a man who refuses to drive or learn how to cycle, both events were held in the same place – the elegant Violin Factory in London. I’m told it was featured on Grand Designs, something I can easily believe thanks to the open plan kitchen, indoor garden and walls which later turned out to be doors. Don’t start imagining a location which is too impressive though, outside it still just looks like any other garage.
Once inside it was the usual kind of thing, by which I mean twenty or so journalists in T-shirts and leather jackets were loitering around sipping champagne and eating canapés, trying to feel important before getting ushered through into a room filled with rather tame-looking hardware.
That room was the centre-point for…
The Microsoft (Xtreme) Hardware Day
As you’ve probably guessed from my rather sarcastic introduction, I’ve never really been passionate about Microsoft hardware. It’s not that I inherently dislike it or have any horror stories to tell you about how a Microsoft-made device once exploded in my hand, it’s just that I don’t find it anything worth getting truly excited about.
In fact, I played a little game on the way over with another journalist where we tried to think of any specific piece of hardware made by Microsoft which wasn’t a mouse or keyboard.
A later revision of the game ruled out webcams too, after that addendum we were stumped.
Stepping through into the Microsoft Hardware Show, an event which also celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Microsoft Hardware Department, however changed my mind. But only a little.
The crowd of journalists to which I belonged was given a little walk down memory lane, with occasional by-streets letting us get a good vantage point from which to see the future of Microsoft hardware. Granted, absolutely everything we were shown was either a Microsoft mouse or keyboard (though one of the American Product Managers later told me that Microsoft also made a fingerprint scanner once), but some of it was actually quite interesting for a sufficiently geeky mind.
I was quite surprised to find myself slowly becoming more and more interested in the process of designing and building Microsoft hardware – even if that ‘hardware’ consists solely of peripheral devices.
Part of my interest came, odd as it may sound, from the fact that I’m a bit ill at the moment and have been suffering from a sore throat. Yes, I know it sounds tenuous, but bear with me for a little bit.
You see, as we were guided around the small hall and we were pulled from plinth to plinth, each one displaying an old or new Microsoft device, I was able to open my ears and listen closely to the reactions of those around me. Normally, I would have been far too busy asking questions and enforcing opinions to listen quite so attentively.
What amazed me most was the stark difference in opinions and thoughts of my fellow journalists. When shown the same type of split-design ergonomic keyboard that is used by Richard, there was a distinct ripple of opinion through the crowd. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. Whatever opinions there were, they were strangely polarised.
So, without further ado, let’s take a quick look at the past, present and future of Microsoft hardware because, while it may not seem it at first, the peripherals we use and how we use them are actually quite interesting.