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July 13, 2010 / Joe Osborne

Tales From the Con: MIX 10 Day Two Recap

After another keynote filled to the gills with exciting announcements and even more questions (not unlike an episode of Lost), not to mention ear crushingly loud tunes, it’s time to recollect and share some of the more intriguing moments from the address. This morning’s intro, a demo of Project Gustav, had much more significance than yesterday’s considering that it turned out to be a technology that Bill Buxton’s researchers have been working on. More on that later.

For all intents and purposes (i.e. what my feeble mind could grasp), the theme of Day Two’s keynote was Internet Explorer 9. With IE 9 Platform Preview going live today as well the various demos that were displayed to us this morning, it’s safe to assume that Microsoft is focused on HTML 5. More on my impressions of IE 9, it’s dependency on and the power of HTML 5 as well as some reflection on Mr. Buxton’s inspiring presentation after the cut.

Nicolas Kamuda wowing the audience via Project Gustav

It’s obvious that IE 9 is banking on the success of HTML 5, but why? HTML 5 seems to be what developers and designers alike are looking towards to introduce some harmony into the web app and site creation sphere. The coding messiah promises to bring the same markup across all browsers. In other words, HTML 5 wants to be compatible with all browsers and leave it up to them to decide how much they want out of it.

Which is why Microsoft’s goal seems to have its browser get the absolute most out of what HTML 5 will allow. How are they doing this exactly? Well, I can’t give exact details (because I don’t know them), but I can say this: hardware accelerated code. This means that HTML 5 in IE 9 will take full advantage of the hardware in your computer from GPU performance to the amount of cores your processor houses. This was made apparent in the HTML 5video playback demo where an HP netbook was playing HTML encoded video at watchable framerates in 720p.

“So what,” you say? How about the little monster playing two 720p streams at once stacked vertically? I don’t care who you are — that’s just plain impressive.

However, one question still hangs: how will HTML 5 in IE 9 support lower end machines that might not have multi -core processors or high video RAM GPUs?

“Our video demonstration on the netbook is a great example of what a low-end [machine] would do. It’s hard to find a single core machine these days,” says Dean Hachamovitch, General Manager of the IE Team.

Nonetheless, actually getting something out of our multi-core processors other than better game performance is a plus. Not to mention the possibilities for even more graphically powerful browsing experiences.

Sorry to you developers out there, but I won’t be saying much on the Visual Studio 2010 and Azure news as I can’t really think of anything remotely witty or insightful on the subjects. Check out their various team blogs for some more information.

Microsoft Principal Researcher and electric saxophonist Bill Buxton

Bill Buxton‘s presentation featured everything from him playing some electric saxophone for us to differentiating the gestures between a metal fan and a classical aficionado. However, this wasn’t the point. His overall purpose was to explain the fact that Natural User Interface (NUI) design must be geared toward the respect and embodiment of the skills of the user.

This means that in the case of NUI, design should be extremely focused and designed to a specific set of functions that cater to a specific type of user. This is where the demo of Project Gustav came in (picking up where the keynote intro left off), a paint project gone extreme. Using multi-touch functionality backed by an intense physics engine, Bill’s team of researchers have created an application that emulates the painting process in a way that only a professional artist or graphic designer would be able to appreciate due to its intricacies in emulating the experience. Intricacies like supporting multi-touch and stylus interaction, a physics engine that can simulate the effect of oil pants smudging and blending and the ability to rotate and zoom the canvas to focus on position and incredible detail. It all seems to make for an intuitive experience that respectfully emulates the reality of the experience.

And that is the bottom line.

Imagine a future where these type of NUIs are designed for all types of skill sets and user types. One can dream, can’t he?

I won’t say much on my experience with interviewing Bill Buxton today other than it was surreal (and it was all recorded anyway and will go live shortly). Being able to pick his brain about where design is headed was an incredible experience. One tip: the future of UX design is in the team mentality. Rather than trying to be a renaissance man, try to assemble the renaissance team of extremely specialized folks who can dream big and make (most of) those dreams reality from design to development respectively, according to Buxton.

Getting some key info on Windows Phone 7 was pretty neat, but let’s not get too much into it as a full feature will be going live soon based on that discussion with Todd Brix, Senior Director on the Mobile Communications Buisness Team. Here’s one tidbit to whet your appetites: that “I’ll be Late” calendar feature I was so (weirdly) excited about will be supported by several clients including Microsoft Outlook, Live, Google and more as well as be ideal for both personal and enterprise use, according to Brix.

With two days down  and one more to go, we’re sadly nearing the end of our MIX 10 experience. Before things get too sappy, let’s just say that this young writer is more than lucky to have such an opportunity (thanks to the Academic Evangelists). That’s it for today’s recap, stay tuned tomorrow and the days after for more updates, analysis and my experience of MIX 10.

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